Petty squabbles thing of past for England?

England's national soccer coach Roy Hodgson (2ndL) speaks to Wayne Rooney (L), Andy Carroll (3rdL)...

England's national soccer coach Roy Hodgson (2ndL) speaks to Wayne Rooney (L), Andy Carroll (3rdL) and Steven Gerrard as they inspect the pitch, ahead of their match against Ukraine, during the Euro 2012 at the Donbass Arena in Donetsk. (REUTERS)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 6:16 PM ET

DONETSK, UKRAINE - Too often in the past, when it came to the loyalties of those privileged enough to represent England on the international stage, the club logo stencilled on their undershorts meant more than the famed Three Lions crest on the front of their jerseys.

For many players, the priorities always seemed to be Chelsea and Tottenham and Manchester United and Liverpool and so on, with all the ensuing egos unable to fit in the same locker room when it was time to gather with the national team.

Club, it seems, meant more than country. That was the appearance, anyway.

Either way, it's a sad statement.

This is England we're talking about here, the country that boasts to have invented soccer. When you make a claim like that, the bar should always be set high. Call it a standard of excellence. It's a quality the loyal, passionate English fans deserve.

Instead, the perception has always been that the Premiership comes first, the national team second. Judging by England's lack of success on the world stage post-1966, there may be some truth to that.

Before you start sending in emails claiming this premise is nothing more than "rubbish" (which, by the way, is one of the great words in the English language), consider the revealing interview done by Wayne Rooney with the BBC the other day in preparing for Tuesday's huge Group D showdown with Ukraine at the Donbass Arena.

Forced to plant his famous butt in the stands for matches against France and Sweden after getting a two-game suspension during qualifying for Euro 2012, thanks to one of his famous blow-ups, the often-troubled, ridiculously talented striker has had ample time to mingle with his national squad teammates.

In the process, Rooney revealed that he has finally seen the type of camaraderie so often lacking with the Three Lions.

No longer does a Liverpool player, for example, look at a Man U colleague and scoff. Now they share a few yuks, not stern leers.

That's a good thing.

And, in Rooney's eyes, a new thing.

"It feels more like a club team now rather than an international team," Rooney said. "Everyone gets on with each other. There's a lot of talk between the players and the coaching staff. Everyone's happy."

During the 1970s and 1980s, the Boston Red Sox were such a fractured lot inside the clubhouse, it was said that, when they left the stadium, there would be "25 cabs, 25 players," Sounds like the English had similar woes not so long ago.

Not any more. Not at Euro 2012.

"You don't have to go very far to see the lads," Rooney said. "You'll see the (Manchester) City players playing snooker with the United players, Chelsea players ... Everyone's mixing, everyone's getting on well."

Wait a minute. Is Rooney saying this was an issue in the past?

To put that into perspective, imagine if Team Canada had been divided within the dressing room at the 2010 Olympics. Imagine if, say, Sidney Crosby and Mike Richards, captains of their respective NHL teams at the time, were at loggerheads because of the their alleged hatred in the Pittsburgh Penguins-Philadelphia Flyers rivalry. Or if the Chicago Blackhawks defensive pair of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook hung goalie Roberto Luongo out to dry because he was a member of the despised Vancouver Canucks.

Fortunately, they put aside any NHL differences they may have harboured for the sake of the team, one which ended up winning the gold medal.

We're not saying this new-found national-team-first attitude is going to result in a Euro 2012 title for England. In fact, just getting the win or draw against Ukraine they need to advance will be a stiff test indeed, what with this entire country against them.

What it does do is bode well for the future. Just ask Rooney.

"There's more chemistry going on between the lads," Rooney said. "It's certainly the most comfortable I've seen on and off the pitch since I've been in the sport."

Perhaps he's right. Perhaps that England logo on their jerseys has added significance for the new breed of player like the Andy Carrolls, Theo Walcotts and Danny Welbecks.

Win or lose Tuesday, that's good news for England heading forward.

mike.zeisberger@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/zeisberger


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