Wayne Bridge’s decision to retire from international football has served as a reminder that while in many people’s eyes the issues surrounding John Terry and himself had been resolved, there is more to consider than the footballing implications.
On face value, a cold hard analysis of the facts may lead an onlooker to have little sympathy for England’s second-choice left-back. The issue with Terry and his alleged extra-curricular activities has been done to death by the tabloids and glossies and there’s no need to go over it again. What we do know is Fabio Capello acted swiftly to strip Terry of the England captaincy and that, in many people’s eyes, was the end of the matter. It was now up to the two of them to be professionals and work together for the one bit of common ground they still had – namely ensuring England did well at the forthcoming World Cup. There’s a line of reasoning that says if Bridge is incapable of putting those personal differences aside for the good of the team, then that is his problem. Capello has many qualities, but a sensitive approach to the subtleties of human nature has never been one of them. One imagines his concern upon hearing the news was not for Bridge’s well-being, but who will replace Ashley Cole at left-back if his injury keeps him out for a prolonged period of time. Such hard analysis is not unreasonable in an intense, results-driven business.
However, it is precisely this modus operandi that probably planted the seed in Bridge’s mind before making such a massive decision. Bridge’s statement, released through his solicitor, expressed a view that his presence in the England squad would have been “divisive”, which implies that the alleged affair, along with its much-publicised fallout, has split opinion and created factions within the England squad. Given that Bridge was nailed-on to start the impending friendly against Egypt, one can imagine the scope for England representing something of a dysfunctional family on the field. While it is utterly undesirable, it is also worth remembering that whatever discord has emerged recently is not the fault of the Manchester City player. He has already had to suffer the degrading spectre of the gutter press pouring over every lurid detail of an episode you can imagine he would instantly want to forget. The effect of this both on himself and his family must have been hard to put into words. If Bridge is receiving grief or criticism from fellow professionals then the logic behind such behaviour is beyond comprehension. There is no argument here. There is no ‘other side’ to take. Terry was the one who did wrong, and if Bridge’s decision is due to anyone somehow twisting this around, then one hopes they sleep somewhat uneasily this evening.
The fact that Terry was captain was seen by many as an aggravating factor that somehow made Capello’s decision all the more difficult. In truth, it made this so much easier to deal with. Stripping him of the captaincy meant that the ‘been dealt with’ box could be ticked while England retained the services of a man they see as critical in their bid for summer glory. It would have been so much more difficult to deal with had he been a first-team player but not one in a senior role. One suspects that a fringe player in the squad would have been out of the door like a rocket, and we would not be having this conversation. Therein lies the real crux of the problem. Anyone familiar with office politics will know that disputes are always ‘resolved’ in favour of the person the employer deems to be more useful to them. It seems sad that we assess what options England have at left-back and centre-half before reaching for the moral compass, but maybe footballers and their managers have more in common with the rest of us than we give them credit for. If Bridge decides to watch the World Cup on television, he can console himself with the fact that he can want an England victory as much as the next man. Fortunately for him, an immortal photograph of Terry lifting the trophy will never materialise. Now that would be kicking a man when he is down.