Kieron Dyer was at home on Saturday. It was his wedding anniversary. He and his wife, he said, did not have any big plans. Hollie was planning to take them shopping in the afternoon, the former England midfielder said, and then they were going out for a meal, just the two of them, in the evening.
This summer marked another anniversary, too. It is 20 summers since Dyer and an army of Premier League footballers descended on the resort of Ayia Napa in Cyprus and let loose. There were so many players there that when they had a kickabout on the beach, crowds gathered to watch.
They played other games, as well. They called one of them ’24’. When you started drinking, you didn’t stop for 24 hours. That was the rule. They felt their fame and they felt the pull it had and it intoxicated them. ‘We thought we were above the law,’ Dyer recalled in his book, Old Too Soon, Smart Too Late, ‘and nothing and no one was going to stop us from having a good time.’
Dyer paid the price later with headlines about his escapades on the holiday. One newspaper called him and his friends ‘animals’. He saw it as a time when ‘footballers were still coming to terms with the fact that their wealth set them apart’. He wrote that today’s players were more discerning, more discreet. ‘They separate themselves from the public now,’ he wrote. ‘They have to.’
He thought the days of scandals on islands in the sun were over so he laughed softly when I mentioned Mykonos. He had not seen the footage of Harry Maguire leaving the courthouse on the neighbouring island of Syros with his lawyer but when he read stories of players gathering en masse on Mykonos, he wondered if it might end like this for someone.
‘It was a recipe for disaster,’ he said. The details of what Manchester United’s captain did or did not do on his hastily abandoned Greek island sojourn are still mired in claim and counter claim and he is caught between a rush to judgment and a clamour to exonerate.
Maguire was defending his sister who had been stabbed in the arm, some say, so who can blame him. Then again, brawling with the police in public, one of the allegations he faces, is never a good look.
Whatever the correct version of events, the hard truth is that Maguire is a fool for being on Mykonos in the first place.
He is the captain of one of the biggest football clubs in the world, he is the most expensive English player of all time and one of the heroes of England’s run to the World Cup semi-finals two years ago. He should be staying out of harm’s way, not running straight to the heart of it.
It is easy to say now but Maguire should have been a million miles away from a place like Mykonos, a bottleneck of millionaire footballers, publicity-hungry reality TV stars, a fawning coterie of selfie-hungry hangers-on and thousands of holiday-makers desperate to let go after months of cowering from Covid-19.
Add into that cocktail fans of rival clubs, emboldened by hours of sunshine and booze, revelling in goading a high-profile star and engineering his downfall. There are reports that some men were taunting Maguire with abusive chants about United and that was the spark for the altercation that was at the centre of his woes.
The problem is that in that environment, that kind of provocation was entirely predictable.
The whole thing feels like a throwback to another era. To Dyer’s era. To the era of the Baby Bentley Brigade and all those shows of conspicuous consumption 20 years ago.
Players have got smarter since. They have guarded their separateness. They go to Las Vegas on holiday or Sardinia or St Tropez or Miami Beach, places where they do not attract as much attention, places where they can buy inaccessibility.
This year, restricted by Covid-19 and by quarantine rules that rule out vacations in the States, Spain and France, they seemed to forget all that wisdom and be funnelled on to Mykonos. It was, as Dyer said, a recipe for disaster and Maguire was the one who does not appear to have seen it coming.
It is worth pointing out that Maguire has done much that is admirable off the field, including funding food boxes to be delivered to elderly and vulnerable people in and around Sheffield, where he grew up, during the lockdown.
It is also worth remembering he has pleaded not guilty to the charges against him, but his involvement in the confrontation asks questions about the judgment of a man in his position. Both England boss Gareth Southgate and United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be weighing those questions.
Raheem Sterling was left out of an England game last year after a physical altercation with Joe Gomez on international duty and it would not be a surprise to see Maguire omitted from England’s squad for the Nations League encounters with Iceland and Denmark next month. His role as United’s captain will also be a matter for debate.
Maguire is said to be popular and respected among his Old Trafford team-mates but Solskjaer is sensitive to the image projected by his players and was thought to have been angered by a crude snapchat video Jesse Lingard posted from a Miami hotel room last summer.
Maguire’s misadventures on Mykonos put Lingard’s faux-pas in the shade. Innocent or guilty, Maguire will know he has let managers of club and country down. After the damage-limitation that will be attempted in the coming days, it will take considerably longer for him to regain their trust.