The Fiver is suffering from acute PTSD. A newly recognised condition, Panama Tunisia Sweden Disorder affects those who cannot get over the golden summer of 2018, when England beat three of world football’s powerhouses en route to the World Cup semi-final. It seems we’re not the only one with it, because there are reports that, when England face Bulgaria on Monday, Gareth Southgate will return to a back three! First, he will apply his boot up the back of three players. At least one and possibly all of Michael Keane, Danny Rose (who is suspended) and Kieran Trippier will be removed from the side that started on Friday, with Tyrone Mings set to make his debut. It’s a dramatic but not unreasonable response to another defensive performance that had them rolling in the aisles, and had The Fiver wondering whether Celebrity Masterchef finalist Neil Ruddock would be better demonstrating his BIG clearances on ITV than his BIG flavours on BBC1.
A year ago, when Danny Welbeck suffered serious-gah, the England players placed a photo of him by the TV in their training camp. Bit weird, but at least they care about absent teammates. This season, they have paid tribute to the knacked John Stones by defending like ersatz Pruniers against Kosovo and the Czech Republic. It seems then that Southgate’s answer to the lack of decent centre-halves is to pick more of them. England will qualify for Euro 2020 if they win and Kosovo fail to beat Montenegro. It’s getting very tight, because England are down to their preantepenultimate chance of qualification. If they lose their last three games, and then a play-off, they’ll be spending next summer at home. Or, perhaps, in a casino. That’s where James Maddison went on Friday night, having been sent home from the England camp because of fears that his virus would infect the rest of the squad. Given their performance against the Czech Republic, etc, etc.

As far as The Fiver is concerned, Maddison’s behaviour was an egregious affront to the proud history of the England national team. There was no dentist’s chair; he didn’t steal a bracelet; he didn’t cause £5,000’s worth of damage; and he wasn’t so drunk that he didn’t know his own name. The Sun, Britain’s premier authority on behavioural standards, said Maddison’s appearance at the casino “looks rude and disrespectful”. Indeed, there are rumours that Maddison cares so little about the England national team that he can’t even name the XI, in correct formation, that drew 1-1 against Saudi Arabia in 1988.
As ever, Southgate was a bit more mature about the whole thing. “I don’t really want to discuss individuals but I know pretty much everything about all of my players,” he said, breathlessly reeling off the exact dimensions of Harry Maguire’s slabhead, whether [name redacted] prefers wing or bre@st at KFC and whether Eric Dier’s parents believe in nominative determinism. “Once a player has been released from the squad, then it’s up to them how they spend their individual time,” added Southgate. “I guess what James has learned is that if you have an involvement with England, then there’s an increased spotlight on you and increased interest in your personal and private life.” And if you play at the back, as Mings will find out, there’s an increased spotlight on whether you are actually any good at defending.
Join Rob Smyth from 7.45pm for hot MBM coverage of Bulgaria 1-2 England.
“I called a meeting with the players in the dressing room, explained the reasons I stayed away in bullet-point form and asked if anyone had any questions. That was their time to say something, face to face. All the guys who said something when I was away stayed quiet. Only one person, Geoff Thomas, said he didn’t agree with me. And I respected Geoff for that. People can say I went on strike but I believe nobody can say that as a colleague and a professional I was an a$$hole” – Pierre van Hooijdonk gets his chat on with Michael Butler about Nottingham Forest and the Queen’s Celtic.

Pierre in Amsterdam there. Photograph: Michel Porro/Getty Image/The Guardian
“Through no action on my part, The Fiver mysteriously stopped arriving in my inbox 533 days ago. I have been indifferent to its absence throughout this time. I have now re-signed up, and look forward to remaining indifferent towards its return to my inbox forthwith. Yours forgettably” – Mike Hall.
“I always had an issue with the lyrics to Three Lions (Friday’s Fiver). ‘Thirty years of hurt,’ they sang in 1996 – implying the hurt started just after we lifted the World Cup. Surely even back then they had a period of afterglow? We followed 1966 by qualifying for the Euro finals for the first time, finishing third – not bad (albeit only four finalists in those days). So the first real candidate would probably be throwing away the two-goal lead in the 1970 World Cup quarters in Brazil? Still, I suppose ‘26 years of hurt’ didn’t scan as well” – Alex Metcalfe.
“Bobby Robson naming Laurent Robert, ‘Lauren Bacall’ (Fiver letters passim) is nothing. Big Jack Charlton famously referred to Liam Brady as serial killer and Moors murderer ‘Ian’ during his time as manager of Republic O’Ireland” – Gerry Rickard.
Send your letters to And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our letter o’the day is … Alex Metcalfe, who wins a copy of Per Mertesacker: Big Friendly German. We’ve more to give away all week.
Headway has criticised Wales manager Ryan Giggs over the handling of an apparent head injury to Daniel James in the 1-1 draw with Croatia. “Ryan Giggs’s claim that the player was being ‘streetwise’ by staying down and appearing to have been knocked out is shocking,” said chief suit Peter McCabe.

Daniel James lies on the ground after colliding with Borna Barisic. Photograph: Alex Davidson/Getty Images
Perhaps after advising the board who he thought the best man for the job was, sporting director Mark Bowen is now Reading manager Mark Bowen.
Ross Wilson has traded his Southampton director of football job for the director of fitba gig at the Pope’s Newc O’Rangers.
If Manchester United manage any shots on target against Liverpool next Sunday, Alisson may be back to save them after stepping up his recovery from calf-ouch during the international break.
And after making a match-winning shootout save for Guildford Phoenix against Swindon Wildcats, Petr Cech was left pinching himself. “It was a childhood dream for me to play even one game of ice hockey,” whooped Chelsea’s moonlighting technical adviser. “Nobody can take that from me.”

Petr Cech makes ice hockey dream debut with match-winning penalty save – video
Football Weekly will be in this general vicinity.
North Korea v South Korea, you say? John Duerden has the lowdown.
“I was seen as the voice of reason on race. I haven’t changed.” John Barnes on why he is no apologist for racism and what needs to be done to tackle the problem at its roots.
England are right to call out racism but their fans’ intimidation, casual vandalism and behaviour in foreign cities is also a form of xenophobia, writes Barney Ronay.
Get your Women’s Super League talking points right here with Rachel Brown-Finnis.

Here you go. Composite: Rex/Shutterstock
Magic Marco is shuffling towards the Everton abyss, writes Andy Hunter.
Germany are in a bit of a mess and their feuding keepers are evidence of this, toots floating-football-brain-in-a-jar Jonathan Wilson.
Oh, and if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!

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