Bad boys. No, we haven't been holed up in Castle Limey watching tepid Will Smith action movies from the mid-1990s. Instead, we've been musing about the bad boys who are the subjects of the two biggest stories that have hit the headlines in the last couple of weeks.
The story that undoubtedly has grabbed the most coverage, on the front and back pages, and across every other form of media has been the scandal surrounding Chelsea and (now former) England captain John Terry. More specifically, the married dad of two's affair with Vanessa Perroncel, the ex-girlfriend of fellow England player, former Chelsea teammate and (we suspect) former friend Wayne Bridge.
The Terry situation potentially threatens to derail both Chelsea's charge for honors this season and England's quest for glory at this summer's World Cup.
Despite England coach Fabio Capello's respect for Terry, the Italian officially stripped him of the English national-team captaincy on Friday, naming Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand as his replacement.
"As a captain with the team, John Terry has displayed extremely positive behavior," Capello said in a statement. "However, I have to take into account other considerations and what is best for all of the England squad. What is best for all of the England team has inspired my choice."
At the club level, Terry's situation seems secure. Chelsea manager CarloAncelotti said earlier this week that the Terry saga has had nothing to do with his team's recent off-color performances. But the future of Terry's role for England seems less certain. There are a few calls for Terry to be axed from the team completely.
Many senior members of the squad apparently had backed Terry to remain as captain. However, British sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe thinks otherwise. "To be the captain of England, you have to have wider responsibilities for the country," he told the Daily Telegraph, with a similar view emanating from Capello and senior figures at the Football Association on Friday.
An interesting parallel to "Terrygate" emerged this week when it was revealed that former U.S. national-team coach Steve Sampson dropped then captain John Harkes from the squad just before the '98 World Cup because Harkes was having an affair with teammate Eric Wynalda's wife. Not, as it turns out, for "leadership issues," as Sampson claimed at the time.
Could Terry get similar treatment? There are big differences. Terry is one of the world's best central defenders, and even more of a key player given the poor form of his center back partner, Ferdinand, this season. Axing Terry would create a huge dent in England's World Cup chances. In addition, one of the unfortunate parties in this whole affair (other than Mrs. Terry, of course), Bridge, is highly unlikely to feature in the squad that flies to South Africa based on his current form and fitness.
Bridge's Manchester City teammate Robinho is another player whose attitude has been questionable. However, unlike Terry, it's for matters on the pitch. And unlike Terry, the man from Brazil couldn't wait to get home.
Last week, City agreed to loan Robinho to his former club, Brazil's Santos, for six months. "Robinho is someone who needs to be playing regularly and we wish him well for the period of his loan," City boss Roberto Mancini said. But surely this is goodbye, period -- how can a player so keen to exit City return there?
Two questions linger: 1) How did a player, previously rated as one of the world's best, end up struggling for game minutes at a club on the fringes of Europe's elite? And 2) to whom and for what fee will City sell him this summer?
Robinho, desperate to leave Real Madrid in summer '08, thought he was Chelsea-bound until hours before City surprisingly acquired him. City, bought only hours earlier by oil tycoon Sheikh Mansour, was a club on the rise and had $250,000 a week to offer Robinho for quick-firing it onto the global map.
With fellow Brazilians Elano and Jô already in the fold, Robinho settled in quickly, developed a rapport with the fans and showed his genius when he bamboozled a Stoke defense en route to a glorious hat trick in October that year. Fifteen goals that season made for a healthy debut for Robinho, though the tell-tale signs of lethargy and indifference were there in some away performances, notably in February's 2-0 defeat at Portsmouth.
Things dramatically changed for Robinho in the summer. Elano was sold to Galatasaray, and with Jô loaned to Everton, the homesick attacker was now the lone Brazilian at City. Injured for two months in the fall, Robinho's keenness to play in a friendly for Brazil in November while still recovering infuriated City. That looked to signal his exit from Manchester. Still, Mancini's replacing Mark Hughes as manager initially looked to offer Robinho a lifeline, but he fell further down the pecking order, behind even the hapless Benjani Mwaruwari, whom City since has loaned to Sunderland.
Robinho sulked his way out of Santos in '05, then out of Madrid and now out of City. His recent comments to the Brazilian press leave little option of reintegrating him at City. "My goal is to stay for a long time," he said. "If the [Santos] president wants to extend my contract to four years, that would be great."
City paid $50 million for Robinho, and to avoid losing face, it will want at least $30 million of that back. Santos might be able to afford to helicopter Robinho into his debut alongside Pelé, but $30 million is a whole different scale of cash. And with many European giants now suspicious of Robinho's ability to produce (note Barcelona's retraction of interest), he'd better watch out. City, if necessary, financially can afford to keep him as a luxury substitute.
Meanwhile, Bridge, returning from injury, will play his first game for City since the Terry scandal broke. The Citizens travel to Hull aware that a win could see them finish the weekend in fourth place, the last of the Champions League qualifying berths. Two of their three rivals face each other when Aston Villa travels to Tottenham Hotspur. Meanwhile, Liverpool plays host to in-form crosstown rival Everton.
Manchester United will be keeping a close eye on Chelsea vs. Arsenal, as its weekend task is seemingly a formality: hosting in-crisis club Portsmouth, which, in addition to its ongoing financial strife, is reeling this week from the news that manager Avram Grant recently visited a brothel. Though only for a massage.
Emir Remmus of Cincinnati wrote to tell us that he enjoyed our sarcasm about the U.S.' chances of success in the World Cup. Emir, we weren't being sarcastic. We genuinely think you might win a game.
Paulo D'Avanzo of Milan, Italy, asks who we think will be relegated this season. Paulo, we think highly of Avram Grant, but with a weak squad and the off-pitch financial crisis, it's surely curtains for Portsmouth. Conversely, while Burnley is a well-managed club, we don't rate its new manager, Brian Laws. Since Owen Coyle deserted Burnley for Bolton, the club has looked doomed. Hull, Wolves, Bolton, West Ham, Wigan and Sunderland are all within three points of each other, but for us, it'll be Hull or Wolves for whom the trapdoor looms. Relative squad strength and EPL experience should prove vital.