English football is moving swiftly towards a new and formalised set of disciplinary standards which will be firmly in place by the time Sven Goran Eriksson leads the national team into this summer's World Cup campaign in Japan.
Adam Crozier, chief executive of Eriksson's employers the Football Association, is arranging a meeting with the coach and his assistants, Tord Grip and David Platt, at which all aspects of policy on the selection criteria for international players will be discussed.
The meeting, to be held in the next three weeks, will have the name of Chelsea's John Terry on top of the agenda, and it will be closely followed by those of Jonathan Woodgate and Lee Bowyer of Leeds.
Crozier, I understand, believes that the FA was, despite the emotional criticisms of the Leeds United manager, David O'Leary, 100 per right in its decision to exclude Bowyer and Woodgate while they faced serious criminal charges, and that such a ban automatically be applied to Terry while he is involved in an assault case which now seems certain to cost him any chance of being involved in the World Cup.
The fact that Bowyer is expected to face a minimum six-match ban when he appears before the FA for consideration of serious disciplinary incidents on the field which were postponed during his involvement in a trial also appears to be a crippling blow to his World Cup hopes in that he seems certain to be unavailable for next month's friendly in Rotterdam. A long ban would also jeopardise his chance of appearing in the March game against Italy at Elland Road. Woodgate, restored to Premiership football since his conviction on an affray charge, also cannot expect an early England recall while he completes his sentence of community work.
While Crozier was yesterday emphatic that neither he nor Eriksson were eager to close the door on contenders for the England team, and that any set of rules must include the flexibility to allow for both "natural justice" and genuine atonement, he was also sure that the need for new and minimum standards of behaviour had to be spelled out.
This last point will also be an important aspect of a wide-ranging discussion between Crozier and Professional Footballers' Association chief executive Gordon Taylor, which will take place next Tuesday.
On the meeting with Eriksson, Crozier said: "We are very aware that the FA have to set standards of behaviour, and this need has been reinforced by recent events. We are also agreed though that these standards and responsibilities have to be met by everybody in the game – not just players. Sven has made it clear what he expects from his players, and while he is obviously a man of the world he knows what he wants and, like all of us, is anxious to draw a line on what is acceptable – and what is not. Tord Grip and David Platt [the Under-21 coach] are also involved in the discussions because they are an integral part of the process of the selection and grooming of international players."
What is needed, it is being accepted in the FA's Soho Square offices, is a tough overhaul of the values in the game, and in this Eriksson has already made it clear that he believes what happens off the field cannot be detached from what happens on it, and that bad behaviour in both places is part of the same problem of poor discipline. His watchword is respect, for the game, for officials and opponents, and it is certain he will be hammering it home again when the squad gathers for the Rotterdam game.
By meeting with Eriksson, Crozier is underlining the importance of an official line which in future leaves no one, including directors and managers, unaware of the consequences of seriously bad behaviour.
In preliminary discussions, Crozier and Taylor have agreed on the need for a 'two-tier' system of discipline reflecting the difference in the impact of fines on the top players and those in the lower divisions – and the seriousness of offences. Under the current agreement between the FA and the PFA, any fine cannot exceed two weeks' wages, but Taylor is already on the record with his concession that in certain circumstances that limit can be waived.
The FA concession to Taylor on this point is that club officials, including directors and managers, must also be held responsible for their actions. The FA is taking an increasingly dim view of managers who appear less than firm in their reaction to the misdeeds of their own players while eager to point out the offences of opposing players and referees' mistakes. O'Leary, for example, probably won some applause with his strong condemnation of his player Danny Mills, sent off at Newcastle, for kicking an opponent. This, apparently, went some way to appeasing those shocked at headquarters by O'Leary's confession that he had to be restrained from a confrontation with the Cardiff City chairman, Sam Hammam.
Taylor says: "I do believe there is a genuine agreement that everyone has to face up to their responsibilities and I'm sure that will be the spirit of my meeting with Adam Crozier. In this we are surely all in the same boat. We're going to continue to work on the education of the players, and respond to particular problems that crop up in the course of the season. In the past we've reacted strongly to trends like players ganging up around referees and the use of the elbow. Recently there has been a lot of controversy over diving, and at the PFA we've been clear that we will never condone cheating. Now we want to see similar concern by managers, and more willingness to involve the players in decisions on new refereeing policy."
Taylor also reports a positive response to the idea that highprofile players who have had problems with drink or drugs in the past should tour clubs providing cautionary tales to young players in danger of going off the rails. "We are in the process of making arrangements," he said, "and the reaction has been very positive. We've had club chaplains writing in to say they will do all they can." Paul Merson, the Aston Villa player whose career was threatened by drink and drugs, has confirmed his willingness to help.Reuse content