In the strangest of times, the most mind-boggling of stories.
For England players to be sent home in disgrace after frolicking with girls in the team hotel would be bad enough in the kindest of climates. In the middle of a global pandemic it almost beggars belief.
Gareth Southgate was about to breakfast in the England hotel in Reykjavik, blissfully unaware of what Phil Foden and Mason Greenwood had been up to the previous day. He was in for a rude awakening.
All of the planning and build-up to Tuesday night’s game in Denmark was thrown into chaos by the behaviour of two players who, though still wet behind the ears, should really have known better.
England boss Southgate has a very relaxed approach during international weeks. Not for him are bans on mobile phones and tomato ketchup advocated by previous Three Lions bosses. He treats players as adults.
But the antics of Manchester City youngster Foden, 20, and his Manchester United compadre Greenwood, 18, must be seen as a test of his authority. Now Southgate has to lay down the law and set an example.
The two young players have let him down in spectacular fashion. Southgate tried to disguise his anger and disappointment but his words spoke volumes.
There’s little doubt that two of English football’s brightest young stars now find their international futures in serious doubt.
Southgate would not accept their youth as an excuse for the ill-timed high jinks.
“Obviously they have been naive,” he said. “I recognise their age but of course the whole world is dealing with this pandemic and there’s a responsibility on every age group to make sure that they play their part in keeping each other safe and not spreading the virus.
“We’re certainly not underestimating how important it’s been to try and maintain a bubble.
“I think the two boys are going to find themselves in a situation, because of where we are with the pandemic, which will draw a lot of judgement from afar.
“The whole country knows this has been a difficult period for young people and young people are going to make more mistakes than older people.
“I think I’m very conscious that these two boys are going to walk into something that’s going to be very intense, and very difficult for them at their age to deal with.
“So, whether people like it or not, I’ve got to try and support them through that and I’ve got to try and not add to the difficulties they’ll find themselves in.
“That said, I’m very clear with them and I will be very clear with them on my feelings, and how they need to respond and how they need to react.
“But I think that balance is important. They are two very young players and I’m very conscious of that.”
When news leaked out of their misbehaviour, the two players were prevented from joining their unsuspecting England team-mates who sat in the changing room before training wondering where the pair were.
Rules had been hammered home to the players on Sunday, the day after the 1-0 win in Iceland, about wearing masks in public areas and not going into neighbouring rooms.
It’s a global pandemic, it was stressed; a matter of life and death. So the fact the two young stars then used rooms in a different part of the hotel to do whatever it was they did will be hard to forgive.
Everything the Football Association, the Premier League, and players have done to adhere to safety protocol was blown apart by the naivety of two libido-led young men.
Southgate added: “Everybody has a responsibility with this virus to play their part. That is why we have taken the decision that we have.
“We have operated an incredible procedure for 10 days to keep all the players together.
“They have been tested four times. In hotels we have stuck to our own separate areas.
“That was important, not only for our own well-being, but to get these games played. It has been such a massive operation across Europe. I think the responsibilities are very clear.”
Greenwood and Foden have been left in no doubt. It’s hard to imagine that either player will be involved in next month’s England games.
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