Playing for your country at the World Cup, the greatest tournament the world has ever seen, should have been a wonderful and enriching experience for England’s 23-man squad this summer.
Instead players such as Chelsea captain John Terry and Manchester United forward Wayne Rooney complained about feeling bored and isolated in their remote Bofokeng training compound. But as Germany’s Mesut Ozil, one of the stars of the tournament put it:
“If you find the greatest tournament on earth boring, then you probably shouldn’t be there.”
Based in South Africa, the home of Nelson Mandela, England’s players had the opportunity to embrace a culture a million miles away from the throw-away nature of their Premier League bubble. Instead the players were kicking their heels with nothing to do, even reportedly turning down a trip to Robben Island, where Mandela spent 18 years in prison. Maybe then England’s pampered players would have realised what it really feels like to be locked up with nowhere to go.
“We’re in a hotel, we finish training and have lunch at one o’clock, but then we have hours to spare,” John Terry revealed.
“There are things to do around the training camp: mini darts tournaments, snooker and pool. But a bit of boredom kicks in. It’s six or seven hours until we meet up for dinner again.”
Instead of moaning about a lack of things to do the England players should have embraced the South African adventure, in what was the last World Cup for the likes of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Co. England’s World Cup squad will forever regret their no-show earlier this summer but at least have time to put some things right in the Euro 2012 qualifiers
While England’s stars were fed up in South Africa, young and hungry players such as Theo Walcott and Adam Johnson were sat at home desperate to be part of the action. Yet it is the plight of players such as Owen Hargreaves and Jonathan Woodgate, who are both struggling to recover from major injuries, which should hit home the most. Their prolonged spells on the sidelines should remind Capello’s latest squad how privileged they are to represent their country when they take to the field in their Euro 2012 qualifier against Bulgaria on Friday.
Woodgate’s playing career now looks in doubt after being left out of Tottenham’s 25-man squad for the new season with a seemingly incurable groin injury. Boss Harry Redknapp hinted the former Real Madrid star may be forced to retire unless he has an operation and is now thought to be seeking another opinion and evaluating his options.
Manchester United’s midfield enforcer Hargreaves managed to make Sir Alex Ferguson’s 25-man squad but has only managed 38 appearances in three injury-ravaged seasons for the club since his £17m move from Bayern Munich in 2007. Previous England regular Hargreaves hasn’t played for his country in over two years and it serves as a warning to other players who may feel they still have their best years ahead of them in an England shirt.
While Hargreaves and Woodgate may never play for England again, Capello’s current squad certainly will and need to embrace the honor of playing for their country with both hands against the Bulgarians. Despite their woeful World Cup campaign, England and their beleaguered manager can be great once again. An opening win Group G win would be the perfect start.