Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood are heading for England purgatory

Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood made their families so proud after making senior England debuts… now they are heading for purgatory

  • Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood went from hero to zero in the England team 
  • Both players made their families so proud after making senior debuts in Iceland 
  • Now their international futures are in doubt after breaking COVID-19 regulations 
  • Inviting girls back to team hotel may cost them England places for some time 

It was early on Saturday when phones began to ping in the Foden household. The news they had been waiting for from Iceland arrived in the form of a picture message, a bright white shirt with a red ‘11’ emblazoned on the back.

This was to be a day to remember for this tight-knit family from Stockport. Phil, Manchester City’s thrilling midfielder, was to become an England international, fulfilling his childhood dream.

There was a very different mood on Monday, however, when phones began to ping again with mes-sages from Iceland. Foden and Mason Greenwood were about to understand what playing for England entailed and nobody was in the mood for celebration.

The young duo were photographed in the hotel room by the girls who stopped by to visit them

Both players made their families proud with first senior calls up, and now face big questions 

Foden has made his family proud during his meteoric rise but that does not mean he gets indulged. After being pictured on Snapchat in a hotel room with two Icelandic girls whom Greenwood knew on Instagram, breaching England’s stringent coronavirus protocols, there was going to be trouble.

His mother, Claire, let him know exactly how much he had let her and his family down. Similarly, his long-term girlfriend Rebecca, with whom he has 18-month old son Ronnie, was enraged by his error. Nothing hurts more than letting those down closest to you and this was Foden’s burden.

‘They are going to walk into something very intense,’ Gareth Southgate said, shortly before boarding England’s flight to Copenhagen. ‘I have got to try to not add to how difficult this situation will be. There is going to be lots of judgment from afar. They know they have got this wrong.’

And there will be judgment. Two young footballers contravening coronavirus rules to see two girls is a recipe for opprobrium and you only had to spend a couple of minutes glancing at comments on social media to see the depth of public feeling.

Foden, with his magic, skill and vision, and Greenwood, the Manchester United teen whose boots are packed with dynamite, are emblems for the thrilling new wave of young English players. Only last week, Southgate was glowing as he enthused about their gifts.

Those gifts do not mean anything today. The common assumption now is that they are reckless and stupid, selfish and irresponsible. Followers of their clubs will have tried to dismiss the incident but many senior colleagues have noted what they did and are furious.

This is why, for once, there was no need for Southgate to go into specifics. Nothing he could have said in Reykjavik would have made Foden and Greenwood feel any worse. The time to think on the private jet that carried them back to England was the beginning of their personal purgatory.

Gareth Southgate had no option but to immediately send the players home from camp

Foden’s misery was exacerbated by City issuing a robust statement condemning his actions and he will be worried there will be consequences in terms of game time from Pep Guardiola. He did not act with malice but he cannot escape the glare.

Nor can Greenwood, who comes from a circle that is just as tight and private as that of his good friend. The word at Old Trafford used to describe him is ‘quiet’. United, who followed City’s lead in issuing a statement, are aghast.

The pair have erred dreadfully and the consequences could be they are relegated to the Under 21s next month. Talent should not mean lesser punishment.

Southgate said: ‘It would be easy to make quick decisions and get them wrong and make statements that, in time, would be unfair. What is very clear is we had to protect the rest of the team and the staff in this situation. We have got to make a very clear call.’

It will be a test of their characters to see how they respond. Southgate is no soft touch and he will not shy away from making big decisions. He hates the idea of lapses in discipline causing problems for his squad.

This is the latest episode in what has been a draining 12 months for Southgate, a manager who now rarely gets asked about football.

Since last September, there have been 11 major issues — among them England players being racially abused, Raheem Sterling attacking Joe Gomez, and Harry Maguire’s arrest — and discussing the irresponsibility of two novices was the last thing he needed.

‘I watched managers when I was younger who were in the role,’ said Southgate. ‘You recognise the attention and pressure regarding football decisions and team selection and no performance ever being good enough. I obviously didn’t have the insight to all the external issues that you have to deal with.

The pair should have been enjoying the best of times, having just made their senior debuts

‘You’re in a position where you’re answerable pretty much directly to Government, in a situation where you’re dealing with the royal family. You happen to be a spokesman for the nation. It is unique. Enjoyment is… yes… it has been great to get on the pitch and work with the players. When you see the players perform and the camaraderie between them, that’s what gives me enjoyment.

‘You know that every decision is going to be questioned and you know that you’ll find yourself in numerous situations. Whatever decision you take, some people will agree with and some will disagree. The rest? I have to park and accept that as part of the job.’

What he will not accept is being let down by his players. Foden and Greenwood will not be banished for ever. But they know that they must regain Southgate’s trust. It will be easier said than done.

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