Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard yesterday pulled the plug on a £16m football extravaganza to be held at the O2 Arena in London in the first indication that England's World Cup players are worried about the public backlash at their poor showing in South Africa.
Rooney and Gerrard were due to be paid £500,000 each for one day's work next month for participating in a skills challenge with Didier Drogba, Cristiano Ronaldo, David Villa and Cesc Fabregas. However both of them withdrew from the event billed as "A:3K Football", forcing the organisers to postpone it until next summer.
The "A:3K Challenge" was due to be covered live by ITV as part of their primetime Saturday night entertainment and the event has agreed long-term deals with a number of sponsors. Players were to compete on different skill challenges including shooting and dribbling but against a theatrical backdrop with light shows and moving stages – all watched by a live audience.
The event caused a buzz in football because of the enormous sums that the players involved were to be paid. It was the only way that the organisers could tempt some of the world's most famous footballers to interrupt their summer holidays to take part.
Both Rooney and Gerrard thought that it would be "inappropriate" for them to be seen to be taking part in an event that is far removed from football's essential team element so soon after England had tanked badly at the World Cup finals. There were also fears of a reaction at the money they were earning, which would not go down well with a public who feel that the England team have let them down.
The event was pioneered by Terry Byrne, the former Chelsea and England team masseur who went on to be David Beckham's personal manager. Byrne is no longer Beckham's manager but he remains a close friend. He said "Both Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney have made it clear they believe it would be inappropriate for them to participate in A:3K at this time. We fully understand and respect both players' decisions."