3 The Daily Telegraph Tuesday 8 September 2020 ** into fresh crisis Oliver Brown Chief Sports Writer Latest antics the cue for manager to get tough Yesterday morning Foden and Greenwood have undermined mutual trust Southgate has sought to create in England set-up Take your pick, from Raheem Sterling’s training-base scuffle with Joe Gomez, to James Maddison’s trip to a casino on the same night he said he was too ill to face the Czech Republic. Covid rules have been merrily disregarded, too, with Kyle Walker entertaining two sex workers at an April house party and Jack Grealish pictured at the scene of a car crash. For Southgate, the appeared to arrive when Harry Maguire’s summer holiday culminated in him receiving a suspended 21-month prison sentence, with all criminal convictions since annulled under Greek law pending the centrehalf ’s appeal. This was embarrassment enough. There are two ways of viewing this latest incident. The first is to reduce it to the language of the Dominic Cummings affair, a case of “one rule for them, another for the rest of us”. This is a simplistic response. It serves only as a useful tool for restoring England players to their traditional role as national punching bags, even though they operate under a level of scrutiny unconscionable in most spheres. The second analysis is to resist frothing condemnation and ask how this was allowed to happen. Foden is 20, Greenwood 18. Granted, they should have known better, not least because of how strictly the lessons on biosecurity have been laid down in elite sport. But they are not of an age that typically comes with a subtle sense of responsibility. So, where was Southgate’s much-vaunted “leadership group” in all this? This cadre of senior players was set up to establish standards for the fresh recruits. In Iceland, this group was supposed to include Maguire, until he was left out by Southgate after his exploits in the Aegean. Jordan Henderson would have been among them but was allowed to prioritise his recovery from a knee injury. The designated leaders in their absence were Sterling, Harry Kane and Eric Dier, all of whom seem to have done a less-than-thorough job in this role. Southgate has deservedly enjoyed a longer honeymoon than most in his position, having transformed a team of strangers into an expressive, dynamic unit. But there have been signs recently of players taking their freedoms to extremes, with the antics of Foden and Greenwood incurring fines from Icelandic police and adding to the evidence of a cultural slide. After the Maguire case, Southgate wanted nothing less than to be plunged into an edition of CSI: Reykjavik. This should, finally, be his cue to crack the whip. T hese days, Gareth Southgate must feel less like England’s messiah in a waistcoat than the harassed chaperone on a geography field trip that has gone horribly wrong. There he is, surrounded by one of Earth’s most starkly beautiful landscapes, and all he can see is the interior of a Reykjavik hotel. To compound the misery, Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood, whose virtues he has spent a week extolling, appear less interested in cherishing their first senior call-ups than in exploring the full delights of the Icelandic pick-up scene. Of all the candidates for boys-on-tour frolics, an excursion to a North Atlantic wilderness in the middle of a pandemic surely counts among the least likely. Foden and Greenwood can hardly be faulted for their resourcefulness, at least. Inveigling young women into an England set-up in full Covid-secure mode is an impressively brazen piece of subterfuge. For all that there is a temptation to be censorious about the pair’s actions, the morals are a matter only for them, in particular Foden, who has a long-term girlfriend and a one-year-old son. The wider significance lies in the sheer audacity of it all. When he took the reins for England in 2016, Southgate was careful in urging his team against arrogance. He warned of a tendency to underestimate opponents. Last November, he expanded his definition, arguing that England did not have a divine right to feature in the latter stages of major tournaments. His approach has been to unshackle his players from the burden of previous expectations, to liberate them through a progressive loosening of the leash. The atmosphere he sought to foster was one of mutual trust. After his debutants’ subarctic assignations, those bonds of trust are not quite broken, but fraying. In the 10 months since Southgate last called for England to lose the arrogance, there have been not just one or two off-field transgressors, but a dozen. piece de resistance Yesterday afternoon So where was the ‘leadership group’ he set up to establish standards for fresh recruits? England officials are made aware before breakfast of reports about the players, who are not allowed to eat with the rest of the squad or join them in training. Foden and Greenwood are dropped from the squad for tonight’s game and sent home. Foden apologises.
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