The lights, the bright lights of being a professional footballer. It’s the envy of young kids all around the world. These bright lights can sometimes blind young players to the responsibilities that befalls them as they navigate through their youth and professional careers representing their club and country. 6th September 2020, two of England’s most exciting young talents fall prey to the naivete of their youth, but how fatal is their mistake?
Phil Foden, 20, and Mason Greenwood, 18, earned their first senior England call-ups for the UEFA Nations League game. Foden made his debut as a starter against Iceland whilst Greenwood made an appearance as a late sub in the close win. However, it’s not the pair’s performance on the pitch that made the headlines this week, but it’s their off-field antics. The media can sometimes be harsh and quick to pass judgement on those in the spotlight. This is not one of those times.
Since their dismissal from England duties, information and footage have surfaced suggesting that Foden and Greenwood, both in long-term relationships, tried to sneak in two young Icelandic women to the Reykjavik hotel that England were staying in. Here’s a transcript of the alleged conversation between the two players and the young women;
Player 1: “Say that again? What was you saying?”
Girl 1: Laughing “What’s the plan?”
Player 1: “What’s the plan?”
Girl 1: “Mmm”
Player 2: “It depends what you want.”
Player 1: “He said, ‘Depends, what do you want?’”
Girl 1: “We can come to the hotel, but I don’t know how you’re going to sneak us in.”
Player 1: “What are you coming to the hotel for?”
Player 2: “What do you think?!”
Girl 1: “Yeah – what do you think bro!” Laughs
Player 1: “Have you got a mate?”
The pair will face criticism and consequences from the media, their clubs, the national team, and perhaps worst of all, their families. The pampered life of footballers, Gareth Southgate’s soft approach, the irresponsibility of the players in question. All these and many more will give journalists plenty to dig their teeth into and unsheathe the critique on Therefore, I think it is important to look at it from a different perspective. Yes, they deserve the backlash, but their circumstance isn’t particularly unique or immensely surprising among young men. I am aware of the problems associated with the phrase “boys will be boys”, but… boys will be boys. The difference for these boys is that they are in the public eye where each slip up is magnified and available for us to pass judgement on.
We have to take the context and situation into account. Two young men, one 20 and the other 18. Excellent in their field and receiving the generous compensation that comes along with that. This has undoubtedly garnered frequent female attention. This can be hard to ignore as a young man. I think I speak for many young men and young women when I say, temptations are difficult to overcome. Stricter rules and guidelines sometimes make those temptations that much more enticing. There is something innately alluring about the danger of breaking those rules and being caught. Unfortunately, on this occasion, the pair were unable to resist those charms.
Another major factor was what happened the day prior. They were both given their very first senior England cap and were coming off a dramatic late win against a team that got the best of them the last time they met. Foden said, “When I was young, you know, every kid on the estate used to dream of playing for England and pretending that they were players,” said Foden. ‘”That’s something I used to do, and now I’m in the senior team”. This is a massive moment in a players career and cause for celebration. Like Greenwood said, “It’s a dream come true, really,”. Do you see how a young man, after fulfilling a lifelong dream, would be tempted to break some rules in the heat of that moment to have a good time?
Experienced players like Harry Maguire and Kyle Walker have also fallen short of expectations in recent times. Maguire, the Manchester United club captain, was convicted of aggravated assault, resisting arrest and attempted bribery while Kyle Walker broke lockdown rules, twice. Experience does not serve as an excuse for them. Both have played at the highest level for much longer and should know better. Foden and Greenwood have had much less experience and therefore not the same amount of tools in their arsenal to navigate the complexities of life as a professional footballer. This doesn’t excuse their actions, but it does provide some well needed perspective for those demonising them.
Ultimately, we are all human and our desires are something we must constantly battle. Sometimes the battle is won, but sometimes the battle is lost. It is, however, just a battle. The war isn’t lost and it certainly isn’t over. Foden and Greenwood will face temptations again and hopefully the next time they do, they will be wiser and more prepared to deal with it responsibly.
“Remember that life’s greatest lessons are usually learned at the worst times and from the worst mistakes.”.