Football: Sheringham blames English society for football's burgeoning booze problem

The Manchester United and England striker has become the latest footballer to go into print.
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THE HEADQUARTERS of Alcoholics Anonymous might have been a more appropriate venue than the Fashion Cafe at Piccadilly Circus even if it is becoming increasingly fashionable for footballers to go into print these days.

With Sheringham, it was more a case of jumping on the bandwagon than the wagon, although as the Manchester United striker admitted it was hardly the ideal time to be releasing an autobiography, what with losing his place in both the England team and United's during the past few months. Indeed he might not even have had a World Cup to reflect upon had Hoddle taken a harsher view of his late-night binge in Portugal a week before the finals. Had the coach possessed a suitable replacement not even Sheringham's public apology may have saved him.

And yet one can not help feeling that Sheringham despite figuring prominently in the infamous Dentist Chair escapade in Hong Kong prior to Euro 96, is probably undeserving of his reputation as " a drunken lout", which the player himself naturally refutes.

A chapter is devoted to each episode in his book, Teddy Sheringham: My Autobiography (Little, Brown, pounds 16.99). Sheringham blames English culture for the reputation that its footballers have abroad, but he refused to accept that it was a serious problem in the game. "With so many footballers you are going to get a few alcoholics along the way and there are only three I know of, Tone, Merse, and Gazza - although I'm not saying Gazza's an alcoholic but he's been having a drink problem," he said. "I'm pleased Robbo is helping him - he's one of only two or three people in the world Gazza respects.

"You have to look at society. Italians, as a whole, don't go down the pub and get drunk on Friday and Saturday night, but that is what we do. When you grow up in that culture you see it as right and do it to fit in with the social climate. I don't know what the big thing is in Italy, but they've probably got their problems in other areas."

For many English footballers, he said, it was a way of releasing the tension in a game which was becoming increasingly pressured. Terry Venables understood that. "He knew that you have to let your hair down at some stage. You can't keep on as we do or you'll explode. We hardly get any chance to relax - I've had an 11 and a half month season for the past two years - that's terrible. If you keep doing that with young players like Rio Ferdinand and Michael Owen, they'll be burnt out by the time they're 24. I don't know what the answer is - fewer games or a midseason break - but you have to recognise when players are knackered and rest them."

Bigger squads is one answer and Sheringham believes that it is going to take one of 22 to win the Premiership and the European Cup. "Probably the best team in the world wouldn't win both but the best squad..."

But Sheringham is having to live with the consequences of like-minded thinking at Old Trafford, having lost his place this season following the arrival of Dwight Yorke from Aston Villa. But the former Spur had no regrets about the move. "I only wish I had gone there two years earlier when Alex Ferguson tried to buy me before. It's a big culture shock moving to a club like United but I know what it's all about now and I want the chance to put it right."

With two years of a lucrative contract remaining he is not about to leave, whatever the rumours about a possible return south. While it may appear that he was only jumping on the bandwagon by releasing a book, it was, on the contrary, as he pointed out, ill-timed after losing his place in first the England team and then United's. But Sheringham has never been short of confidence in his own ability and when it was put to him what constituted the ideal pairing in England's attack, he replied: "Me and someone else."