Glenn Moore: Conflict over discipline clouds FA's new ideals

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The Independent Football

On Friday the Football Association pledged to establish clear selection criteria for England internationals with reference to players involved with the police and the courts.

On Saturday the players issued what David Beckham described as "an ultimatum". It asked the FA to establish clear selection criteria for England internationals with reference to players involved with the police and the courts.

No problem there then, one would think, especially as Beckham said the ultimatum was only backed by a threat to boycott the FA's commercial activities, not to strike.

It is not that simple. Beckham said the squad wanted players to remain available until found guilty. This will not happen. The FA have to consider the wider image of the game, including their own commercial interests - the income from which benefits both England players and the grass roots.

It would thus have been impossible for the FA to allow England to select Lee Bowyer and Jonathan Woodgate while awaiting trial on charges of assault and affray after incidents outside the Majestyk nightclub in Leeds in January 2000. Nor John Terry after he was charged with affray, actual bodily harm, the unlawful possession of a weapon and wounding with intent following a fracas at London's Wellington Club two years later.

Compromise will be found by offering to continue selecting players who are on police bail, but not charged. This would have enabled Alan Smith to remain in the squad. It would also spare the FA from dropping a player who the Crown Prosecution Service later decided had no case to answer. This would have been the case with Nicky Butt, who spent five months on police bail after being accused of assault - had the FA been aware of his status.

What Beckham did not address is what should happen to players who are found guilty. If a players is jailed he obviously becomes unavailable, but should he be selected when on parole? James Beattie, who replaced Smith, still has more than a year to serve on his drink-driving ban. Should he be banned until he has served his time? As Mark Palios, the FA's chief executive said, there is far more potential to injure while driving under the influence that in throwing a plastic bottle. Yet Smith, were he a spectator rather than a player, could be facing a life ban from football grounds if found guilty of throwing an object.

All this stresses the various shades of grey. It is very difficult to formulate a fixed policy for offences which could range from speeding (for which Beckham has been convicted) to rape. A tariff, rating each offence, would not take into account the particular circumstances of each case which, as any judge would testify, can hugely influence sentencing.

Between now and England's next international, in February, Palios and those senior FA officials he still trusts after his humiliation on Friday will sit down with the England players' committee (Beckham, Sol Campbell, Michael Owen and Gary Neville) to agree new guidelines. All will find it more complex than anticipated.

Of course, it would help if the players behaved themselves.

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