AND manager Fabio Capello has not given up hope of selecting Wayne Bridge in his World Cup squad despite the defender turning his back on the national team.
Bridge yesterday shocked England chiefs by announcing his international retirement, saying he felt his position had become “untenable and potentially divisive”.
The left-back, 29, is thought to be uncomfortable with playing in the same team as Chelsea captain John Terry, who allegedly had an affair with Bridge’s former partner.
But Capello, who had expected Bridge to be available for next week’s friendly against Egypt and beyond, remains optimistic the player can be talked round.
“It surprised me, but I respect the decision of all the players,” said Capello. “But the door is always open for him. We have time, there is still three months until I will decide my final squad for South Africa. I hope Wayne Bridge will be with us at the World Cup, but I respect his decision.”
Capello’s confidence that Bridge would be willing to play alongside his former Chelsea team-mate and close friend Terry was confirmed by Stuart Pearce when the coach, one of the Italian’s key staff, spoke on Tuesday.
Bridge also appeared more likely to be available after Capello’s first-choice left-back Ashley Cole broke his ankle earlier this month, elevating the Manchester City player to a near-certainty to start in South Africa.
Speculation rumbled on, however, over whether Bridge would shake hands with Terry when City face Chelsea at Stamford Bridge tomorrow – a match that has now taken on even greater significance.
And then yesterday Bridge dropped his bombshell, releasing a statement through his lawyers announcing he was forsaking his best and possibly last chance of winning a World Cup medal.
“I have thought long and hard about my position in the England football team in the light of the reporting and events over the last few weeks,” he said.
“It has always been an honour to play for England. However, after careful thought, I believe my position in the squad is now untenable and potentially divisive. Sadly, for the sake of the team and what would be inevitable distractions, I have decided not to put myself forward for selection. I have today informed the management of this decision. I wish the team all the best in South Africa.”
Bridge’s withdrawal was a second blow of the day to Capello, after Rio Ferdinand was ruled out of the Egypt game. It was due to be the Manchester United defender’s first game as skipper since Capello stripped Terry of the captaincy for his off-field behaviour.
Gordon Taylor, chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, said attempts to heal the rift between Terry and Bridge had failed. “The PFA offered to help and contacted both parties with a view to acting as mediators, but neither came back to us,” he said. “I am surprised and saddened that this matter could not be resolved.”
WAYNE BRIDGE’S STATEMENT
"I have thought long and hard about my position in the England football team in the light of the reporting and events over the last few weeks.
"It has always been an honour to play for England. However, after careful thought I believe my position in the squad is now untenable and potentially divisive.
"Sadly therefore I feel for the sake of the team and in order to avoid what will be inevitable distractions, I have decided not to put myself forward for selection. I have today informed the management of this decision. I wish the team all the very best in South Africa."