26 February ~ Wayne Bridge's decision to retire from international football is a disaster – not for the England football team, but for the press. With Ashley Cole's wife off to LA, the tension surrounding Bridge and John Terry was a godsend for a newspaper industry that lives off hype, fights and hyperbole. Bridge's decision to abstain from the England squad has robbed the press of the squabbling and hostility that sells papers. With no warring team-mates, there will be no rumours of simmering tension in the dressing room, no need to employ sign language experts to monitor the players' behaviour and not much to say before the tournament begins.
The press will be more upset by Bridge's decision than Fabio Capello. The England manager has lost a middling left-back, who was only ever likely to take up his usual role in the squad – filling in as Ashley Cole's understudy. Despite his broken ankle, Cole has every chance of being fit for England's opening fixture on June 12. And even if he does not make the squad, Bridge was never a certainty to take his place. Bridge has played poorly this season, both before and after his two-month absence with a knee injury. Alan Hansen went so far as to deem his display against Burnley in November as deserving "minus 6 out of 10". "It was that bad I just feel sorry him," said the normally restrained, if aloof, Hansen. The emergence of Leighton Baines and Stephen Warnock, coupled with the availability of Joleon Lescott, Gareth Barry and James Milner, all reduce the significance of Bridge's absence from the squad.
With Rio Ferdinand struggling with a recurring back injury and the positionally-dubious Glen Johnson still lacking match fitness, England's defence looks shaky. But Bridge was never going to be the catalyst to England winning the World Cup. He would, however, have added some spice to the media's coverage of the tournament. Today's reaction to Bridge's announcement barely disguises the papers' annoyance at his withdrawal. "Quitters win nothing," says Darren Lewis in the Mirror, "Weak men don't win World Cups," professes the Mail and Tony Evans in the Times goes so far as to question the legacy Bridge is leaving to his son. With even the normally erudite Jim White in the Telegraph denouncing Bridge's decision as a "spectacularly self-destructive fit of pique", it is clear the press are mourning the end of the saga.
Bridge asked not to be selected for his country as he could not come to play in the same team as Terry. But he also admitted that his position in the squad was "untenable and potentially divisive". With Bridge gone England have lost a decent full-back but they have also rid themselves of a divided dressing room. This is great news for the England team, but it won't sell many papers.