You really had to marvel at Gareth Southgate’s powers of self-restraint when he described Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood on Monday as ‘two boys I don’t know particularly well’ and of the need to ‘speak to them in the appropriate way’.
Boys? Not really. A 20-year-old and 18-year-old who have spent a week observing the extraordinary levels of work going into ensuring that they get a shot at playing for England. Yet who were still so hell bent on satisfying their own appetites that they booked rooms at a Reykjavik hotel to smuggle in young women. The appropriate way to speak to these players? ‘Don’t ever darken my door again,’ some might say.
You only had to look into Southgate’s eyes on Monday to see the incandescence that his words obscured and no one can blame him for that, given that this is the fourth fire he has had to fight in as many years as England manager.
Manchester United striker Mason Greenwood is heading home after breaking quarantine rules
Phil Foden is also heading home after the pair invited two Icelandic girls to their team hotel
The two Icelandic girls, one of whom is 20-year-old model Nadia Sif Lindal Gunnarsdottir
He had barely started in the job when Wayne Rooney was apologising publicly over images of himself looking the worse for wear after dropping in on a wedding party. Last year, there was Raheem Sterling scratching Joe Gomez in the team canteen. Last month, there were the embarrassing consequences of Harry Maguire being charged with assault after living it large on holiday in Mykonos. All of this while steadfastly helping his players deal with racism in Bulgaria and Montenegro and then tackling the challenges of the pandemic.
Southgate was asked on Monday if there came a point when this job stopped becoming an enjoyment. ‘I would say that is a brilliant observation,’ he replied.
Nothing new in any of that, because the roll call of national embarrassments is long. It includes footage of Frank Lampard, Rio Ferdinand and Kieron Dyer having sex with girls in Ayia Napa in 2000. A British newspaper branded them ‘animals’. ‘We didn’t give a s***,’ Dyer said in his autobio-graphy last year.
But grubby though some of those incidents were they did not take place in the midst of a global pandemic when even those intellectually challenged by words of two syllables cannot fail to understand what ‘bubble’ means.
One of the women was videoed while on the phone to Foden and Greenwood, making plans
Foden has since released a statement, in which he apologised to England, City and his family
A generous interpretation of Foden and Greenwood’s Hotel Saga assignations is that it conforms to the indifference some of their generation feel to the warnings about Covid. One leading manager has said privately in recent days that 30 per cent of his players had tested positive after returning to training.
With Kyle Walker and Jack Grealish for company in the England squad, Foden and Greenwood had a ready-made source of insight into the backlash which accompanies breaking quarantine. Though after Walker was caught breaching protocols for a second time this summer, he took to Twitter to say something he felt he had kept inside for far too long: ‘I feel as though I am being harassed.’
It is Foden whose decision to disregard the meticulous efforts to get football played is most baffling. As a revealing profile of the pair’s friendship on these pages revealed last week, he is the one who has taken Greenwood under his wing within the