The Premier League is taking another fortnight off to accommodate some international football and the likelihood is that, if you are an England fan, it isn’t a break that you are looking forward to.
Those who talked themselves into believing that Sam Allardyce was an upgrade on Roy Hodgson, who oversaw England’s Euro 2016 exit to Iceland, and stayed faithful even after an underwhelming opener in Slovenia in which he needed a 95th-minute winner and unduly adulated Wayne Rooney will have been crushed by his shock departure after being filmed making inappropriate comments.
As a result, the Three Lions are onto their third manager in three games, and the least qualified yet in Gareth Southgate, whose only experience with a senior squad saw him lead Middlesbrough into the Championship in 2009.
In other words, even with Malta at home up next, the country’s appetite for its national team is nanoscopic at present, so let’s try to create more positive connotations by revisiting a few tales of international footballers at the casino:
Thirteen-time Scotland full back Phil Bardsley is better known for antics off the field than on it. The only positive of the publicity surrounding a video of him seemingly knocking Rooney out in a kitchen sparring session last year was that it took some attention off his previous off-field faux-pas.
A midweek trip to the casino probably isn’t the best idea when your team have a match at the weekend, especially if your manager is the ever-so-slightly animated Paolo Di Canio, as Bardsley’s was at Sunderland when he went for an ill-advised night out in May 2013.
However, it wasn’t a bit of fun at the roulette table that stoked controversy, but when he was snapped lying down on the casino floor on a bed of £50 notes, with a further wad spread across his body. Unsurprisingly, he wasn’t picked again by Di Canio, but was recalled the next October by successor Gus Poyet, who prolonged his Stadium of Light career by a season. He is now at Stoke.
Whereas nobody would dare underestimate Man City in the Champions League now that they have Pep Guardiola drawing the arrows on the tactics board, the Citizens weren’t respected as a European force in spring 2015, having never advanced beyond the round-of-16.
Perhaps that’s why players regarded as ultimate professionals like Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique saw no issue with taking in a night out at Casino de Barcelona with former colleague Cesc Fabregas less than 48 hours before a knockout tie away to the Premier League title chasers.
Though it was reported that they didn’t even place any chips on felt, the timing was awkward because Barcelona had just lost to Malaga to fall four points behind Real Madrid in La Liga, and there were rumours of key men, most notably Messi, having difficult relationships with Luis Enrique.
The coach refused to fuel the media fire – which it must be said burned more brightly in England than Spain – claiming no interest in what had happened, and his attitude was vindicated. His side won 2-1, admittedly courtesy of Luis Suarez rather than Messi, and went on to achieve a treble, while all three men are still at the club coexisting to silverware-hoarding effect.
If success on the pitch and in the casino alternate with one another, England skipper Rooney would be wise to devote as many midweek hours to baccarat and poker as shooting practice right now as he must be missing out on the hot streak of a lifetime judging by his recent football form.
In 2008, the opposite phenomenon was evidently in operation, as he returned from a brace-bagging mission in Belarus at around 03:00 convinced that his luck was in and headed straight for 235 casino in Manchester.
A few hours and more than a few £500 blackjack hands and roulette wheel spins later, he was £65,000 out of pocket, with the joy of his match-winning contribution earlier in the evening eroded by the time that the doors were closed at 06:00. The good news was that, even eight years ago, such a loss equated to less than a week’s wages for the Man Utd captain.