Sterling and Gomez are far from the first players to have been involved in a contretemps with a teammate on national duty.
Gerard Piqué and Sergio Ramos
Rivals for their clubs, they were partners for their country. Except that a lot of the time people questioned whether Spain was Piqué’s country, and that dimension always lingered in discussions of the players’ relationship. It was driven of course by the often bitter battle between their clubs, Barcelona’s Piqué more than prepared to attack Madrid and that tension sometimes taken to the national team. At least — and this is the key — by the comically partisan media. This was the battle for years, an obsession. Not that they ever came to blows, or even close. Often it was a game. Ramos summed it up when he responded to one Piqué remark by saying: “Coming from Iniesta, it would annoy you, but it’s Piqué and we all know it’s part of the show with him.”
After one game Piqué claimed: “In the directors’ box at the Bernabéu sit the people who pull the strings in this country.” To which Ramos replied: “They have more to answer there than us.” When Ramos was sent off in a clásico, he walked past Piqué and said: “Go on, keep talking.” Afterwards the Catalan insisted it was a “clear red, but they’re so used to referees letting them get away with it”. Very different characters, if perhaps not quite as different as they would like to think, they were actually a brilliant partnership and they got on better than many people liked to imagine. One day when Spain wore white, like Real Madrid, Ramos sidled up to Piqué and said: “White looks so good on you that you’re lost for words.”
Freddie Ljungberg and Olof Mellberg
The pair clashed in training as Sweden were preparing for the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea. Ljungberg, who was with Arsenal at the time, had won a tackle and set off with the ball, but didn’t get very far before being chopped down by Mellberg, then an Aston Villa player. Ljungberg got to his feet and grabbed the central defender by his throat before Daniel Andersson moved in to separate them. It ended with all of them falling to the ground. After the incident Mellberg said: “Of course I regret it. You can’t put a positive spin on what I did. It is nothing to be proud about. It was stupid.”
Years later one of the two coaches, Lars Lagerbäck, said that there were two cliques in the dressing room. He said: “It is no secret that we had two groups. One with Zlatan and Mellberg and another with Ljungberg. They never had coffee together. But we had one ‘No. 1’ guy who everyone respected and that was Henrik Larsson. He said: ‘Let them just carry on and have a go at each other – as long as we are getting results.’” Sweden finished ahead of Argentina in the group at that World Cup to qualify for the knockout stage before losing to Senegal after extra time in the last 16.
Edgar Davids, Guus Hiddink and Danny Blind
The Netherlands’ capacity to churn out tales of international squad discord is almost unrivaled but we only have to look back 23 years for the classic example, on English shores at Euro 96. Everything imploded after a win over Switzerland in their second group game at Villa Park, which seemed straightforward enough but in fact stirred a hornets’ nest. Davids had been none too happy to start on the bench and then, when he saw Clarence Seedorf substituted for tactical reasons before the half-hour, blew his top. The then-manager, Hiddink was criticized by Davids for preferring Blind. Hiddink decided he would rather see no more of Davids, and promptly sent him home.
It meant the term “De kabel” – the cabal – became common currency in Dutch households. That group was said to comprise Davids, Seedorf, Winston Bogarde, Patrick Kluivert and Michael Reiziger, with suggestions surfacing that they in effect operated in isolation from the rest of the squad. A photograph of the quintet supposedly dining separately was mischievously circulated but racial tensions, which were widely implied, were not the crux of a complex issue. Davids’ anger had largely bubbled up after a festering issue surrounding club salaries at Ajax, where older players such as Blind had particular clout. It did the Dutch side little good: they lost 4-1 to England five days after Davids’ indiscretion then lost on penalties in the quarter-final against France.
Wayne Bridge and John Terry
When Bridge withdrew himself from England contention in February 2010, Fabio Capello had a left-back problem with the South Africa World Cup looming large. If only that was the extent of his concerns: Bridge had deemed his own participation “untenable and potentially divisive” after a series of stories alleged that his former partner, Vanessa Perroncel, had engaged in an affair with the England captain Terry, alongside whom he had played at Chelsea.
Perroncel has consistently denied the allegations, doing so in an interview with the Guardian later that year. It was an extraordinary situation and one that was amplified within just two days of Bridge’s announcement, when his Manchester City side faced Terry’s Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Students of footballing (non-)handshakes were given a treat when Bridge conspicuously rejected Terry’s extended arm. He later said he “could not believe” the atmosphere inside his former home stadium, where his name was booed, and expressed his regret that the incident had colored appraisals of his career. There was to be no England comeback for Bridge, while Terry carried on for another two and a half years.
Jesper Gronkjær and Stig Tøfting
As Denmark prepared for the 2002 World Cup, a spot of training-ground tomfoolery escalated dramatically after Thomas Gravesen and Tøfting ambushed their teammate Gronkjær, jumping on the winger during stretching exercises, throwing water at him and putting ice cubes down his shorts. Gronkjær required treatment for a hurt eye and then confronted Tøfting, with the pair wrestling each other to the ground. The watching Danish press pack saw it all, with one eyewitness commenting: “They were just horsing around then suddenly it was a serious fight. It was over quickly, maybe five or six seconds, but it was a real fight – Tøfting had his hand around his throat.” It needed the intervention of the Danish FA’s general secretary, Jim Stjerne Hansen, shouting at them to stop, for the fracas to die down.
The Guardian Sport