Foden and Greenwood push Southgate into fresh crisis
England manager must deal with a betrayal of trust by two players whose actions have undermined his authority
Mason Greenwood and Phil Foden should have been running out for England against Denmark tonight. Instead they are running the gauntlet of public criticism because of their stupidity, immaturity and complete disregard for their teammates and the situation they – and the rest of the world – are in.
Here are two of the country’s most talented young footballers who, in their first call-up to an England senior squad, and having earned their first caps, have chosen to break the rules and have rightly been slung out by Gareth Southgate and sent home.
What is so remarkable is that neither seemed afraid or feared consequences of their actions and so decided to take the risk of meeting women from outside of the biosecure bubble at the England team hotel in Reykjavik on Sunday evening. What does that say about them?
In normal times, such rule breaking and having liaisons in hotel rooms would be bad enough, but as we are still dealing with the debilitating effects of the coronavirus pandemic it points to a horrible disconnect and a betrayal of trust.
The only possible mitigation is that Greenwood is 18 and Foden 20, and Southgate spoke with his usual empathy about how he knew “young people get things wrong”. But he also knows that only goes so far. “We’re not excusing that in this instance,” the England manager said, and the reality is that under any circumstance the two players have let him and England down and fallen far short of what is expected of them.
There are questions now for Southgate – can he trust them in the future? Does this damage his authority? And, above all, having established his rebuild of the England set-up on the belief that players have responsibilities to each other
and the shirt, how far has that been undermined?
Understandably Southgate balked at suggestions that, well, he might be a bit of a “soft touch” given the apparent latitude he has allowed players and the fact that he can be so in tune to their needs. That opens him up to the accusation that what some people describe as “emotional intelligence” when it comes to dealing with young footballers can be deemed, by others, as naivety.
Certainly Foden and Greenwood have let Southgate down and their very actions undermine the authority of an England manager who has lauded them, given them their chance and launched what should be long international careers. Why then embarrass him like this? Prior to playing Iceland, Southgate could not have been more fulsome in his praise of the pair – and this is how he is rewarded?
Southgate will not take it personally. But he needs to deal with it beyond the obvious exclusion of the players and while the circumstances are very different from Harry Maguire’s arrest and conviction – pending appeal – before the squad announcement last month and the bust-up between Joe Gomez and Raheem Sterling a year
ago, the fact is that three of England’s last four matches have been overshadowed by outside events.
Southgate has dealt with all those incidents well – Sterling was dropped and Maguire was excluded after the verdict came through while he also took a dim view on seeing James Maddison watching the England-Czech Republic game in a casino three days after being sent home with flu. So he has earned the right to process this latest episode in his own way.
But Southgate does need to consider if these are isolated incidents or a trend induced by a more trusting environment. He also needs to consider whether the leadership group of players he has established – which involves Harry Kane, Eric Dier and Sterling in this squad – is exercising enough control. This is football at the elite level, with special privileges and responsibilities and this is no way to act and Southgate has to find out if any players were aware what was going on.
As for Foden and Greenwood, there is no way, unfortunately, that either of them can be considered for selection for England at any level in the near future, no matter what their club form is. It means that they have to be disciplined and ruled out of England’s trio of
matches next month at Wembley against Wales, Belgium and Denmark. At the very least. Others who are capable of acting more responsibly are more deserving.
If there is sufficient contrition then neither player should suffer beyond that, but any call-up will have the caveat that they have to regain the manager’s trust, while for Foden and Greenwood – both of whom are fully aware of the rules having lived under them for their clubs in European competition – there will be the stain of stupidity for some time to come.
There will also be further punishment from their clubs and, unfortunately, the way they have behaved raises that suspicion that young Premier League footballers believe they do not have to live by the same rules as the rest of us and that their fame and ability will override misdemeanours.
Foden and Greenwood have been caught out. They have embarrassed England and the England manager and it is quite a charge to carry.
Southgate’s mantra with England has been “high performance, low maintenance”. The actions of Foden and Greenwood look like a deliberate attempt to ridicule that so there have to be further consequences.
For both players, there will be the stain of stupidity for some time to come