Sport

Pampered academy life leads to likes of Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood thinking they are bulletproof


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

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

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

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 filmed speaking on the phone

Laughing along she appeared to make arrangements

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

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 England Under 21 set-up, prepping him for an interview with journalists in Albania and waiting around to ensure it had gone well. Those protocols provided him with a cherished England debut.

A Snapchat clip released by DV appears to show Phil Foden (pictured) and Mason Greenwood in a hotel room with female company

The clip shows Greenwood (pictured) and Foden wearing their new England training kits

A Snapchat clip released by DV appears to show England youngsters Phil Foden (pictured) and Mason Greenwood in a hotel room with female company

But though modesty personified within the Manchester City set-up, Foden is a far more exuberant and self-confident individual with the Under 21s, to some extent, an accident waiting to happen.

Foden does not have people to fight his corner behind the scenes in a crisis like this, not even a professionally qualified agent.

What unites the two is a life cocooned in the world of football academies since early childhood. City have made great strides in recent years to ensure that the gilded cage brings with it an education at a local private school. But what that sanitised, sheltered world does not provide is the remotest sense of fallibility.

Talk to one of the pair’s England team-mates, Burnley goalkeeper Nick Pope, about what life at 18 looked like and he will describe the devastation of rejection at Ipswich Town, picking up the pieces at sixth form, driving a battered Renault and shaking with fear when his mother told him Charlton Athletic were on phone — to give him a second chance.

The young duo were photographed in the hotel room by the girls who stopped by to visit them

The young duo were photographed in the hotel room by the girls who stopped by to visit them

All Foden and Greenwood have known through their childhood are people at two prestigious football academies fawning over them and telling them how good they are. That has the kind of consequences which Ian Wright articulated in a section of his superb Desert Island Discs broadcast earlier this year, covering a time when he had just made it at Arsenal.

‘The success and the amount of praise you get, you start… to say to yourself that you are invincible,’ Wright said. ‘Nothing can hurt you. You start to think you are breathing a different air and are a bit special. Those were not my proudest years. I caused a lot of problems for my family.’

Foden and Greenwood breathe that different air. It breeds selfishness, narcissism, a sense of entitlement. A belief, graphically demonstrated in Reykjavik, that they are bulletproof.

Gareth Southgate addressed the media about the incident and the consequences for the boys

 Gareth Southgate addressed the media about the incident and the consequences for the boys

Except they are not. Had Sterling, Harry Kane or Jadon Sancho committed a breach like this, Southgate would have a problem. But Foden and Greenwood are dispensable. When Jordan Henderson, Harry Winks and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain return to Southgate’s midfield, Foden would be hoping for a place in it, not expecting one. The same goes for Greenwood when Marcus Rashford is back.

There will be consequences now. Likely relegation to the Under 21s. A long wait for a recall. A controversy which will haunt them for years. The adult world, they have just discovered, brings accountability and responsibility. It can be a very unforgiving place.

OFFICIAL ENGLAND STATEMENT

An FA Spokesman said on Monday: ‘Whilst in Iceland, both Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood spent time outside of our private team area, which was a breach of our COVID-19 rules.

‘While they did not leave the team hotel, it was an unacceptable breach of our protocol. They have both apologised for their serious lack of judgement.

‘The FA will be launching a full investigation into the circumstances leading up to this breach. We have spoken to the Iceland FA to offer our apologies for this incident and to ensure them that we are taking the appropriate steps. 

‘We have also assured the Danish FA that all other players and staff members have been isolated within our group throughout this period.

‘Our immediate priority now is preparing the team for the match against Denmark tomorrow.’

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