England stars facing the cruelest cut of all
Published 23:00 26/05/10 By Simon Bird
"Sorry, but I am not taking you to the World Cup...."
The words that have shattered top footballers, broken careers, caused hotel rooms to be smashed and angry feuds stoked up between player and boss.
The select group of last minute rejects includes Paul Gascoigne, Darren Bent, Phil Neville, Nicky Butt and Andy Hinchcliffe. One minute they are about to become part of England's World Cup history. They are in the provisional squad, and praying they'll make it through the most cruel cut in football.
The next they are cut adrift, dashing home to be consoled by wives and parents, hastily booking holidays, trying to avoid the television and any mention of the festival of football they were desperate to play in.
Fabio Capello will go through the painstaking process of culling seven stars from his 30-man squad on Sunday night after England's final warm-up friendly against Japan in Graz, Austria.
The Italian will deliver the news in person to the unlucky stars. So how will England's fringe men, players like Shaun Wright-Phillips, Scott Parker, Stephen Warnock, Michael Dawson and Darren Bent feel come Monday when they meet Capello in person to hear the good or bad news?
History suggests emotions will run high. Players speak of experiencing anger, frustration, emptiness and that stomach churning, mind-spinning realisation that it is all over.
At least Capello will do it face to face. Last time round, ahead of Germany 2006, Sven Goran Eriksson broke the news to rejects on the phone. Darren Bent, culled despite 22 goals that season for Charlton, didn't even recognise the mobile number calling, only to answer and discover it was the Swede about to crush his dream.
Ahead of France 98, Glenn Hoddle took the doctor's surgery method of breaking the news. He famously booked his squad a series of appointments in his hotel room at the squad training base in La Manga, Spain.
The result? Paul Gascoigne trashing Hoddle's room in a rage fuelled by a day of fretting, a couple of beers, and a realisation his top level career was finished.
The Gascoigne incident remains the most disturbing example of a World Cup dream gone wrong. Hoddle took 28 players to La Manga, and had to weed out six. The players relaxed playing golf, swimming and waiting for their appointment with Hod to arrive.
"This is f****** stupid, I thought," recalls Gazza, "he's treating us like schoolkids. The idea of keeping us sitting around was petty. I barged into a room where Ray Clemence, Glenn Roeder and John Gorman, the England coaches, were sitting. I glared at them daring them to tell me whether I was in, to give some sort of clue.
"I could see in Glenn Roeder's eyes what Hoddle had decided. I couldn't control myself any longer. I burst straight into Hoddle's room, where he was talking with Phil Neville and I went ballistic."
Gazza recalls in his autobiography, My Story: "I wasn't drunk. I might have had a couple of beers in the morning and was a bit hungover from the night before.
"What the f****** hell are you doing? You know what it means to me you f****** b******. You know what you are doing to me you f****** b*****.
"I went to the wardrobe and kicked the door in. Then I overturned the table, smashing a pottery vase. I cut my leg and so there was now blood all over the place. I didn't try to hit Hoddle, though I'd have liked to. It wasn't long before he'd led me to believe I would be in the final 22. I was hell bent on trashing the whole room."
Hoddle told Gazza: "The thing is, Gazza, your head isn't right. Just calm down and I will tell you why."
But Gazza adds: "I was about to start smashing all the windows when David Seaman and Paul Ince burst in and managed to restrain me. The doctor gave me a valium tablet."
Gazza was on the first plane out of Spain with Phil Neville, Ian Walker, Dion Dublin, Nicky Butt and Andy Hinchcliffe. He refused to watch any England games in at the 1998 World Cup.
More recently, Sunderland striker Darren Bent has experienced the heartbreak of rejection, something he desperately hopes to avoid again this weekend.
He'd scored 22 goals for Charlton and had a fine season.... then Eriksson chose little known, uncapped 17-year-old Theo Walcott instead of Bent. He explained earlier this season the dramatic moments, heart leaping out of your chest, when you get the news.
Bent said: "For that moment, everything stops. You don't know the decision. It is on a knife-edge. You can feel your heart pumping. Time stands still. I didn't even know it was Sven at first. I didn't have his number. He told me I wasn't in the final squad. He told me I wouldn't be going to the World Cup finals.
"It was heartbreaking. I can't tell you the pain. I can't tell you what it feels like. I remember feeling angry about it, but I also remember my dad being even more angry, because after the season I'd had, it had been put into my head that I would be going to Germany.
"Friends said there was no possible way I wouldn't be there. Me being me, I had that uncertainty in the back of my mind. When Sven phoned me and told me I wasn't going, it was shattering.
A lot of people told me that I would definitely be in the last England squad, but that just didn't cross my mind. I'm one of those guys who will always have those questions in my head until I see it, finally, for myself."
How do stars deal with it? Gazza's career went downhill and he was never the same again. Bent chose to use the snub as "ammo" to get his career firing again. Same again this season with his 24 league goals for Sunderland and finishing second behind Wayne Rooney as the Premier League's top English scorer.
"I tried to come back the next season and do as well as I can. If I don't get picked for this World Cup, I'll do the same."