As England exits the World Cup after yet another disappointing campaign, veteran Premier League manager Harry Redknapp has poured fuel on the fire by suggesting some England players shirk national team duty.
Redknapp, now manager of Queens Park Rangers, said it happened during his 2008-12 stint at Spurs. The England players at White Hart Lane at the time included current Toronto FC striker Jermain Defoe.
“I was at Tottenham and I’m telling you now, when full internationals came around, two or three players didn’t want to play, they did not want to go and play for England,” Redknapp told BBC’s Sportsweek. “They’d come to me 10 days before the game and say: ‘Gaffer, get me out of the game. I don’t want to play in that game, get me out of it.’ And that was how it was.
“And I said ‘You’re playing for your country, you should want to play.’ (They said) ‘Nah, my girlfriend’s having a baby in four weeks, I don’t want to play.’ And that is the truth. It makes you wonder.”
That drew immediate reaction from England captain Steven Gerrard and manager Roy Hodgson.
“In the two years I’ve been here, I’ve seen a greater interest in playing for England, so Harry’s comments come as a bit of a surprise, quite frankly,” Hodgson told reporters in Brazil.
Gerrard urged Redknapp to name names.
“I tell you what, I’d be interested to find out who those players are,” Gerrard told reporters in Brazil. “If Harry is making a comment like that, he should name them and embarrass them. Hand on heart, no one in this group wants to go home.
“No one has said to me they don’t like playing for England or that they don’t want to be here. If (what Redknapp says is) the case, it’s disgusting. For me, if a player doesn’t want to be here, he doesn’t deserve to be at a World Cup.
“But should Harry not name them? ‘They’ didn’t want to play for England. Who? Name them. We need names. Is it Aaron Lennon, Kyle Walker, Andros Townsend? I don’t know who he means. Does he mean five years ago? Or 10 years ago?”
Redknapp says he won’t name names.
“I understand Steven’s concern but I don’t want to get into naming names because it wouldn’t be fair to the players,” he told the Daily Mail. “Every Premier League manager past and present knows what I’m talking about. Probably even Roy Hodgson. But sadly this attitude is not unusual these days.
“You’ve only got to look at how many players pull out of an international game on Tuesday and Wednesday then are running about for their clubs the next Saturday to see that this is a very real issue.”
Defoe insists he is not one of the guilty parties.
“I’ve always been available for England and not once pulled out of a squad when I’m not injured,” Defoe told England’s Sun newspaper. “Playing for my country has been the pinnacle of my career. When Roy Hodgson rang me to say I was not in the squad this summer, it was the most devastating news I’d ever received.”
Hodgson said he did not believe Defoe was one of the players Redknapp was referring to. And Defoe was also backed by the England skipper.
“I’ve spoken to Jermain Defoe and he’s devastated (not to be at the World Cup),” said Gerrard.
With England (0-2-0) concluding its World Cup campaign against Costa Rica in Brazil on Tuesday, the post-mortem is well underway back in Britain.
Redknapp – who also pointed the finger at the growing number of foreign players in English soccer, even in club youth squads – said England players were pulling out of tournaments, at all levels.
“I think it’s only going to get worse, they see the stick that England players get. They come home, they’re earning gigantic money at their clubs, they’re all playing Champions League now, they think do we need that aggro?
Defoe’s emotion at missing out on the England squad was plain to see when the final roster was announced. The 31-year-old forward, who has 19 goals in 55 England appearances, said he was devastated.
“No I don’t think I’ll ever be at peace (with the omission),” he told Toronto reporters at the time. “If I had an injury then I could sort of like understand it, and I could hold my hand up and say, ‘Well you miss out by injury and it’s not meant to be.’ “But in my head, it’s sort of baffling a little bit. I don’t really understand it. But again it’s always important to remain positive and just keep doing what I’m doing because at the end of the day I get judged on playing football and that’s it.”
Redknapp was seen as a candidate for the England job when Hodgson got it.
There were 11 other England players who worked under Redknapp at Spurs: Darren Bent, David Bentley, Peter Crouch, Michael Dawson, Tom Huddlestone, Jermaine Jenas, Ledley King , Aaron Lennon, Scott Parker, Kyle Walker and Jonathan Woodgate.
Toronto FC did not hold an open practice Tuesday.