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Friday, Feb. 20, 2004
England internationals wielding far too much power
LONDON -- We like to be different in England. We drive on the wrong side of the road. We drink warm beer, our plugs have three pins instead of two and when our football fans go abroad, they tend to fight rather than make new friends.
England is also surely the only country where the players tell the Football Association what to do.
Excuse me if I sound old fashioned, but does the tail wag the dog anywhere else in such a manner?
There has been ongoing dialogue with senior England internationals and F.A. officials about when a player can and cannot be called up to play for his country.
Problems began when the squad objected to the F.A.'s withdrawal of Rio Ferdinand after the Manchester United defender was charged for failing to take a mandatory drug test.
The seemingly confused England players said Ferdinand had been found guilty without a hearing, not realizing that he WAS guilty by virtue of failing to take the test.
Mutiny was in the air before the Euro 2004 qualifying tie in Turkey, but the strike was averted and the boys played on.
Next on the players' agenda were Alan Smith, Nicky Butt and James Beattie.
Smith was called up by England but released a few hours later, when it was discovered the Leeds striker had been arrested that day for throwing a bottle back into the crowd (all police charges were subsequently dropped but Smith was given a three-game ban by the F.A.).
The F.A. said players who had police action pending would not be considered for England until the case was concluded, yet Butt had represented his country while charged with assault (subsequently dropped) last year.
Beattie was on England duty while still completing community service after a drunk-driving offense -- the Southampton striker had decided to drive the 30 meters from a night club to a kebab shop, rather than walk and was immediately breathalyzed.
The players and the F.A. have been trying to draw up a blueprint for what constitutes non-selection for England.
Why the players should be involved is beyond me. Surely it is up to the F.A. to finalize a sensible and fair selection policy?
They are the sport's governing body, yet there have been a number of meetings with players to thrash out selection guidelines.
Should a player who has been arrested be chosen for England?
There is a presumption of innocence in law until proven guilty, yet the F.A. seems likely to preclude a player who has been arrested for a non-football related crime.
As happened with Smith and Butt, when all charges were dropped, the players could have missed internationals yet still been found innocent.
Where does it stop?
Does the F.A. not select a player if he is banned from driving?
Or if someone is involved in, for example, fraud?
The F.A. seems to be digging a hole for themselves and -- by allowing players to assist in dictating selection guidelines -- is one step from the squad saying "hold on -- so-and-so is playing well, yet he hasn't been called up . . . "
But the English like to be different, with making mountains out of molehills a footballing specialty.
The first step was that all clubs with potential England players were sent a letter asking them to inform the F.A. of any disciplinary or police matter which might affect selection.
On Monday, before the squad flew to Portugal, captain David Beckham, F.A. executive director David Davies, former Professional Footballers' Association deputy chief executive Brendan Batson and F.A. director of football development Trevor Brooking had further talks to thrash out selection criteria.
Beckham also spoke to F.A. chief executive Mark Palios and the Real Madrid midfielder said: "I'd like to think we are near to a settlement, because no one was happy with the last episodes and we don't want to be going into Euro 2004 worrying about something like that.
"If everything has been done -- everything the players and every one else wants -- then there will be no questions from me."
Player power or common sense?
The F.A. does not want unhappy players, but should Beckham and company have such an input on selection matters?
Whatever your view, it is difficult to imagine this scenario anywhere else in the world.
Christopher Davies covers Arsenal and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.