I know only too well how precious your England career is, and how easily it can be snatched away from you.
That’s why I am so anxious for Manchester City’s Phil Foden to repair the damage done to his international future by his behaviour in Iceland earlier this month, but the signs are he is on the right track.
I was delighted with the way Foden played in City’s win at Wolves on Monday. We already knew that, technically, he is a great player but the mental strength he showed when he was under so much scrutiny was seriously impressive.
Even before you consider that it was his first game since he was sent home in disgrace from the England squad, it was a test for him to start in the first Premier League game of the season.
Foden has never done that before – in the previous two campaigns he had to wait until April, then December, for Pep Guardiola to give him a first start in the league.
Putting him straight in this time was a big step and a sign of Foden’s status in the team now – at the age of 20, he’s not on the fringes filling in any more, or the first player to be taken off.
They were stupid & selfish – but clubs right to pick England pair
I am not going to defend Foden or Manchester United’s Mason Greenwood here for what they allegedly did – which reportedly was to meet girls at the England hotel and breach coronavirus quarantine restrictions.
I really can’t believe anyone would do anything like that on their very first trip with the senior team. When I was first called up by England, aged 19, I was absolutely bricking it. I did not to want to put a foot out of line.
As well as stupid, it was massively selfish to break the restrictions because it could have affected the whole squad – the game against Denmark could have been called off if they had inadvertently brought Covid-19 into the England bubble.
So they deserved the punishment they got and they should both regret the incident massively, but at the same time they are both young and it should not overshadow their careers, or hold them back.
That’s why I was pleased they both seem to have been able to put it behind them with their performances this week on the pitch – Foden against Wolves then Bournemouth in the Carabao Cup, and Greenwood by scoring against Luton. It didn’t seem to affect them at all.
It’s just the first step of course – their off-field behaviour is going to be just as important now – but they were able to show they have the kind of character they will need to fulfil their enormous potential.
To do that, they had to play. What they did has not been brushed under the carpet by anyone at City or United, far from it. But still picking them rather than punishing them by leaving them out was great management and the right message to send them.
‘I got the support I needed from Sven’
I can talk from their perspective because I have been in a similar position myself, unfortunately. Right at the start of my career, my personal life made the front page of a newspaper in a way that was embarrassing for me and my family.
Although I was an England player then, I wasn’t on international duty at the time of the incident and I had not broken any rules, but I still knew I had let myself down.
It could easily have affected my form and the direction of my career but my manager at City at the time, Sven-Goran Eriksson, dealt with it in exactly the right way.
He told me, ‘Don’t you worry about that side of it, I will always back you there. Your private life is private and your football life is separate – but what you need to do now is make sure you don’t give anyone an excuse to write bad things about you again’.
Then he said, ‘you just carry on and play your football like you know – you are my best player and I need you to carry on being my best player’.
I just thought that was brilliant. It was what I wanted from my manager. Any doubts I had about how it would affect my future, and whether I would be out of the team because of what I’d done, were gone straight away.
I don’t know what Pep has told Foden privately but he is still picking him which in itself is a public way of showing his support. Like Sven did with me, it’s exactly what he needs because it lets him concentrate on his football.
‘Say sorry to the rest of the squad’
It could be a different story for Foden with England. We don’t know what Gareth Southgate’s next move will be, and whether he will consider Foden for his squad for the October games against Wales, Denmark and Belgium.
Southgate has got a big decision to make because he can’t be seen as weak to the rest of the squad, but with Foden in particular he has a player who is going to be vital to England for a long time, not just at next summer’s European Championship.
He needs to give him a proper dressing down and make him realise this is not something that can be laughed off. As Foden said himself when he was first called up, playing for England is something every kid dreams of – the biggest honour you can get as a player – and it is a privilege that you have to earn with your behaviour as well as your performances.
Foden will know all about that now – as well as the exposure he gets as an England player – and he deserves a second chance. That’s why I would pick him in the next squad, but Southgate should go and see him beforehand, to make it clear there can be no more mistakes.
Once the squad get together, I would make him apologise in front of the team too. He and Greenwood probably didn’t get to see the rest of the players when it all happened in Iceland before they went their separate ways.
So I’d say to him that you have to address them all, to say you were stupid and you are sorry and you know what will happen if you do it again. That would be a powerful way of dealing with it, without leaving him out. I don’t think excluding him would help anyone.
When the full glare of the media is on you
There are no guarantees when it comes to international football, though. While City were brilliantly supportive to me when I made the headlines for the wrong reasons, it was clear Fabio Capello, who was appointed England manager at the same time it happened, was not impressed by my off-field behaviour.
I was in his first squad, at the start of 2008, but I didn’t play and I was soon left out altogether. That was partly down to other people playing well in my position, but he had come in like a headteacher and was totally strict. I don’t think he particularly liked me very much as a player or a person – he certainly never spoke to me.
Maybe the off-field stuff was just an excuse for Capello not picking me but I remember him speaking to my agent at the time, and mentioning it. When I heard that, I thought it was a bit harsh, but it just shows how things change when you get in the England picture – I was just a teenager, but I suddenly had to watch everything I did.
It’s not just Foden, people like Leicester’s James Maddison and Jack Grealish at Aston Villa have found out what it’s like to have the full glare of the media on you, and it is not always helpful to your England hopes.
You have to be very careful how you handle yourself. Little things can cost you a lot, and even when you have not really done anything wrong you can find yourself out of favour very quickly. It might be the end of the road, even if you don’t realise it at the time.
Micah Richards was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.