Sam Wallace: Bridge the understudy must grasp his opportunity to take centre stage

Bridge must play on because it is the best thing for Capello's team'ss World Cup chances
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Doing the rounds at the moment is one of those terrible credit card adverts distinguished by the sort of twaddle that insults your intelligence. It says, "All the world's a stage – don't be an understudy." Search me what that's got to do with 17.9 per cent APR, but it could have a relevance to the life of Wayne Bridge.

Before Christmas, Bridge was wondering how he was going to spend six weeks in a hotel in South Africa miles from anywhere while the people around him got on with the serious business of winning the World Cup. That was going to be six weeks of marking Aaron Lennon in training, wearing out the PSP and watching the tournament from the bench.

Bridge was an understudy. Not just any understudy, but understudy to Ashley Cole, one of the best left-backs in the world. Certainly one of the most experienced. In fact if the England captaincy was decided the Italian way, game-by-game according to who had the most caps then, assuming David Beckham was on the bench, Cole's 77 caps would put him in contention. Now there's a scary thought.

As of Wednesday, Bridge was no longer an understudy. Cole has fractured his ankle and, despite the optimistic predictions after his surgery on Friday, there can be no guarantees he will be fit, especially match-fit, for the World Cup come June. The new England first-choice left-back is Bridge. All the world really is a stage.

The problem is that Bridge finds himself this week contemplating retirement from international football, and it has nothing to do with the boredom of being an understudy. Rather it is more likely to be that he cannot bear to spend a moment in the company of John Terry, the man whose affair with Bridge's ex-fiancée – and mother of his child – Vanessa Perroncel, you might just have heard about recently.

It would be a terrible mistake if Bridge was to announce his intention to retire this week, not to mention a waste of a good career. Why chuck it all away over Terry? An international career, a World Cup finals, is far too important a part of a footballer's life to sacrifice over feelings that will, with the passing of time, become much less painful.

It will be an unpleasant experience for Bridge to see the man who has caused him so much grief, much more so because Terry seems not to be the type to show remorse. But there is a World Cup at stake here and if Bridge is capable of putting his feelings aside and getting on with it then he deserves our respect and our gratitude.

Having now played three games since his return from an injury that cost him two months out, Bridge will have to decide on his international future before 27 February when Capello names the squad to face Egypt. It would be fair to say he is not in the best frame of mind to make such a big decision.

So far Bridge has kept a dignified silence on the whole saga. Some have pointed out that as Perroncel was his ex, he has no right to dictate to her what she does after their relationship has ended. True, but he is entitled to expect a level of decency from her. As for Terry, some mate he turned out to be.

Which is why Bridge has probably played over and over in his head how he will handle his encounters with Terry. First when they meet in the handshake line-up before Manchester City's game against Chelsea on 27 February and then at the England team hotel two days' later.

The answer is Bridge just has to get on with it. He has a lot of England team-mates who sympathise with him in private, even if they are not prepared to criticise Terry in public. He should let Terry do the worrying and instead enjoy joining up with the England squad and, for once, being sure of playing.

It is, above all, a great opportunity. Bridge's reputation has taken a bit of a battering in recent times. He stayed too long at Chelsea in Cole's shadow; he should have got out as soon as he arrived. He had a bad game against Croatia in the disastrous defeat at Wembley in November 2007 but he was not the only one.

Bridge is a better left-back than many give him credit for, he has 36 caps which is 36 more than his nearest challenger to the position after Cole. Leighton Baines is in a terrific run of form but he has never played for England. Stephen Warnock has one cap from 20 months ago and Paul Konchesky, who is injured, last played for England in 2005. James Milner? He's not that versatile.

I would like to see Bridge play on for England because it is the best thing for Capello's team's chances of winning the tournament this summer. But also because it would be a terrible shame for a player to throw away his England career on the basis of a cruel, callous thing a team-mate did to him.

Bridge is, for now, no one's understudy. Twenty years from now he will not be worrying about Terry and Perroncel – which will by then be a distant scandal from English football's past. But he might still regret not going to a World Cup finals.

Prius chatter cannot put brake on electric workouts of Ronaldo

Castrol's bizarre new football statistics that were ridiculed by Fabio Capello at the League Managers' Association dinner on Thursday include the revelation that Cristiano Ronaldo lifted the equivalent of 16 Toyota Prius cars over a weights session. At least Ronaldo doesn't have any trouble slowing down. Unlike the Prius.

Sven proves too nice for his own good

The League Managers' Association's President's dinner at Wembley on Thursday night was a great occasion which was well-attended by the big names in management and many of those further down the ladder. I just felt sorry for Sven Goran Eriksson.

The compère John Inverdale put his foot in it with a joke at Eriksson's expense, asking him if he regretted taking the England job. The trouble with Eriksson is that he is such a nice bloke, people take liberties. Would Inverdale have tried the same stunt with Sir Alex Ferguson?

Roman ruckus puts United protest in shade

It is amazing how upset clubs like Manchester United get about supporters unfurling banners in protest about the club's owners. They seem to think that even the most peaceful protests are unacceptable.

At Lazio's training ground last week, the police fired tear gas at a crowd of 1,000 fans who set off fireworks and flares in protest at the team's poor performance. It certainly puts English football's recent contretemps in perspective. The protests by supporters, especially at United and Liverpool, have a decorum that the Italians can only dream of.

Comments