World Cup 2014: Rob Green warns England players - don't make the same mistake I did
The goalkeeper's calamity in South Africa in 2010 cost him his place and his reputation – and led to years of angst
Sunday 18 May 2014
By now, the build-up has properly started. Roy Hodgson has named his squad for Brazil, all of those 23 players can rightfully dream of making history.
Few in the squad will fear the World Cup flip side, of drawing hysterical criticism for an honest mistake. Four years ago, Rob Green certainly didn't, although a media storm around one player has become an essential part of England's World Cup tapestry.
The image of Green letting Clint Dempsey's shot slip through his fingers for the USA's equaliser four years ago is burned onto the collective memory alongside David Beckham's 1998 red card; the footage went around the world. As Green lay on the Rustenburg pitch with head in hands and ball in net, ITV commentator Clive Tyldsley lamented "that will take some getting over".
It is arguable whether he is even over it yet. Green was immediately dropped by Fabio Capello in 2010 for the next game against Algeria, and was nowhere near Hodgson's squad for 2014.
Despite having more caps than Ben Foster, Fraser Forster and fourth-choice John Ruddy put together, the Queens Park Rangers' goalkeeper now only has one focus: next Saturday's Championship play-off final against Derby County.
Yet the hurt still hasn't completely gone away. Last Monday, when Hodgson announced his 23, Green's wife went for lunch with a neighbour. It was the eve of the play-off semi-final second leg with Wigan Athletic, but all the talk was of England and the sympathy people felt towards Green. "My husband's really sorry for what happened at the World Cup," the neighbour said.
Green displays a sense of detached bemusement about it all as he talks at QPR's training ground. If any England player is caught in a similar storm this summer, he would do well to heed Green's words.
"The day after we played USA, my parents, who were watching on television at home, went out for a walk to clear their heads," Green said. "They got a phone call to say 'don't come home'. They didn't for two days because the press were just sat outside. They are normal people." This was far from a normal situation.
"It was beyond football," Green added. "The stuff that went on, it was an attack on my family, an attack on my parents. There were people trying to climb into my sister's back garden. Girls who I had gone on one date with, phoning me up asking 'Why is there a woman in my office trying to get a quote from me?'"
Green has seldom publicly discussed the USA mistake in the four years since, although he did make one conspicuous public gesture to the Upton Park press box after starring in West Ham's 1-0 over Tottenham just months after that World Cup. It didn't prevent West Ham's relegation that season, however.
He said: "I just didn't think there was any good to gain from a personal or professional perspective if I was to speak because of the way our season was going at West Ham. You keep your head down because you have to pick and choose your battles."
Now, since Green definitively knows he has not been picked for Brazil, he is asked whether he felt any regret or strangeness when Hodgson announced his squad last week.
"No, because I have lived my life every day for the past four years and I have thoroughly enjoyed it," he said. "You deal with what is in front of you. After what happened last season, [it] was never going to be about getting into a World Cup squad. It was always going to be about playing football regularly again."
It is for precisely that reason Green does not even rank the South African experience alongside the most miserable of his career. That was last season. Green puts QPR's 2012-13 relegation, and his own demotion behind Brazilian goalkeeper Julio Cesar, in the starkest terms: "The worst year I've had in professional football."
"I've been in teams that have struggled, I've been in teams that have been relegated but I have not been in teams where I've sat on the side and watched a team implode or combust or disintegrate into nothing. As someone who sits there and thinks he can help, it's a pretty tough experience. Dealing with that it was far greater than some nugget getting into my sister's back garden.
"On a personal level, there was only one way you can deal with [the USA mistake]: backs to the wall and fight. The only way you can fight is to play football and to do it well."
By contrast, Green had to initially resign himself to a passive place on the bench at the start of QPR's 2012-13 debacle, and it's impossible not to detect some resentment about some club decisions.
"We sat there in pre-season and there was myself, Shaun Derry, Clint Hill, Jamie Mackie and Heidar Helguson. I'd only been at the club a few weeks and they said 'there will be one point in the season where we look down the spine of the team and we're all there, and we know we're bang in it then'.
"That's when we know we're in trouble, when it's really hit the fan. That's what happens. Guys who come and go, they've come and they've gone in the space of six months. We played a game in December time and we looked down the spine of the team, and we were all playing, and we're bang in it now, because if we were playing, we know something's gone horribly wrong."
Now, it feels right. Green added: "The play-offs have really galvanised the group because it's not been a grind, it's not been a long process over a year. It's been: 'you have to do this now'."
They are on the brink of a return to the Premier League. After all that, it is put to Green whether he has
been to hell and back. "No. Crikey. I went to a charity function last night where you're speaking to kids whose lives have been destroyed. You get here and it's all a sense of perspective.
"That's what I'm talking about with last season. It gave me a real chance to look at my career and what I had done. In the last four years, I've got married and had two kids. You take the rough with the smooth, professionally as well as personally, so it's been the best four years of my life. I can't really swap it for anything."
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