Bridge quits England at odd time
Wayne Bridge is leaving the England team less than four months before World Cup
England teammate John Terry allegedly had affair with mother of Bridge's child
With Bridge out and Ashley Cole healing from injury, England is thin at left back
OK, so we all feel very sorry for Wayne Bridge. The mother of his child, Vanessa Perroncel, and John Terry allegedly had an affair. Terry is not just Bridge's former teammate at Chelsea; he is also his teammate on the England team. And, until Terry was stripped of the England armband last month -- as a direct result of his alleged affair with Perroncel -- he was the national-team captain, too.
Fine. In the testosterone-laden, quasi-militaristic ethos of the locker room, Terry violated one of the most basic principles: He betrayed a teammate and close friend. Cheat on your wife? Not such a big deal. Get drunk and make a fool of yourself in public? No sweat. Get into a fight in a bar and break somebody's jaw? Hey, stuff happens. Take pictures of yourself naked and watch them end up on a topless model's cell phone? Welcome to the club.
But dare to go out and sleep with a teammate's former girlfriend and you become soccer's Benedict Arnold.
Note that this is in no way a defense of Terry. His behavior was reprehensible and, in the sympathy stakes, it's obvious the pendulum swings entirely toward Bridge.
There is, however, something that does not quite add up. Something for which Bridge ought to be held responsible. When the story broke last month, the England coaching staff spoke privately to both players, precisely to discover how they were feeling. They concluded that Terry's position as captain had become untenable and asked him to step down. But they also spoke to Bridge and presumably he told them that, while he was far from happy with the situation, he was a professional and was ready to carry on. Otherwise, why else would they have planned for a future with Bridge, at least while starting left back Ashley Cole is sidelined?
Yet, on Thursday, Bridge issued a statement that read: "I have thought long and hard about my position in the England football team in the light of the reporting and events of the last few weeks. It has always been an honor to play for England. However, after careful thought, I believe my position in the squad is now untenable and potentially divisive."
Had he issued this statement three weeks ago, fair enough. Nobody has the right to question another man's state of mind, and if Bridge was too upset at Terry to appear in the same team as him, then so be it.
But what is difficult to comprehend is why he's changing his mind now. What happened in the interim to make him want to turn his back on England?
We may never know. Or he might come out and tell us. Either way, it is hard to see how it can take a man so long to make a definitive decision. Was he expecting Terry to be kicked off the England team? If that's the case, once England boss Fabio Capello took the captain's armband away on Feb. 5 but confirmed that Terry would stay, that should have been that. If he felt he couldn't play with Terry, that would have been the time to pipe up.
As it happened, Cole picked up an injury, which meant that Bridge would almost certainly be on the plane to South Africa. Did Bridge choose this week so that nobody could accuse him of stepping aside because he knew he wasn't going to go anyway?
As it stands, the timing of this decision is what is hardest to understand. At least Bridge had the foresight of ruling himself out before England's friendly next week, the only one planned before Capello names his World Cup squad on May 16. This means that somebody else will get to audition for the left-back job. Waiting until after the game would have been both selfish and hypocritical, especially because Bridge would have been certain to start.
Now Capello and his staff can weigh their options if the worst-case scenario transpires and Cole does not recover in time from his broken ankle. The list of candidates is slim. Everton's Joleon Lescott played left back a bit for England, but that was two years ago and since then he has played mostly in central defense. Plus, he's not having a particularly good season. Jack-of-all trades James Milner has played there a little bit as well, but he's not a natural defender and it's probably best to take him as a utility player.
If you opt for a full-time left back, the most-talked-about options are Aston Villa's Stephen Warnock and Everton's Leighton Baines. Both, however, are probably a little too attack-minded for Capello's tastes (which could be a problem with a marauding fullback like Glen Johnson on the right); what's more, they have played a combined eight minutes at the England level. That will likely change next Wednesday, but lack of experience still will be a big question mark.
All of this will be rendered moot, of course, if Cole is able to return. And it will all feel really distant and irrelevant. Right now, however, by ruling out the possibility of being a professional and playing alongside Terry (let alone a rapprochement, even for the sake of appearance), Bridge has painted the England team into a corner.