In a story with remarkable parallels to the decision now facing Fabio Capello, the former USA coach Steve Sampson has revealed he dropped John Harkes two months before the 1998 World Cup because the captain was having an affair with the wife of team-mate Eric Wynalda.
The USA lost all three group games in France and, in a warning to Capello, Wynalda said: 'It's an unfortunate time for England, because I know first-hand how this can affect a team. We all know how we did in the World Cup in '98.'
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At the time, Sampson claimed the midfielder had been dropped because he refused to play a more defensive role.
But yesterday he admitted Roy Wegerle, the US footballer who played for a number of English clubs, had spoken to him in the build-up to the tournament, claiming he had personal knowledge of the affair.
HAVE YOUR SAY. Should Terry be stripped of the England captaincy? John Terry has been named as having an affair with the ex-girlfriend of team-mate Wayne Bridge. Terry is claimed to have cheated behind his wife's back with Vanessa Perroncel. Do you think he should be dumped as skipper? TELL US WHAT YOU THINK Sampson said: 'I think I could have lived with everything else andkept John on the team. It's one thing to have an affair outside theteam. It's another to have one inside. There are just certain lines onecannot cross.'
Sampson said he is glad the story was coming out now because 'maybepeople will have a better understanding of what happened in the finalmonths leading up to the World Cup. Maybe now people will have a little bit more of an understanding as to why I made such a critical decision. The last thing I wanted was to drop John Harkes because I really did believe he was an outstanding leader on the field.'
Sampson defended his decision to keep the affair secret, saying: 'I felt that these are the kinds of issues which need to stay in the locker room and within the team and not be exposed to the public.'
Harkes was a member of the 1990 and 1994 World Cup teams and became the captain before he was dropped by Sampson in April 1998, despite the coach having named him 'captain for life', later the ironic tile of Harkes' autobiography.
After reaching the second round of the 1994 World Cup at home, the US flopped in France four years later, losing to Germany, Iran and Yugoslavia in their group.
Warning: Steve Sampson
Dropped: John Harkes
Sampson, much criticized by players during the World Cup and fired afterward, defended his decision to hide the truth.
He said he discussed his decision at the time with then-U.S. Soccer Federation president Alan Rothenberg, secretary general Hank Steinbrecher and current president Sunil Gulati, a longtime member of the leadership.
'It wasn't about losing 2-0 to Germany or losing to Iran,' said Sampson. 'There was more to it than that, which I believe impacted on the outcome.'
Wynalda prompted Sampson's comments by speaking out during a discussionof the Terry affair on US radio. He said: 'There's a lot ofsimilarities between what happened to us in '98 and what's happening now to England,' Harkes has long denied having an affair with Amy Wynalda.
Yesterday, he said: 'I am not going to rehash the things that havehappened in the past. 1998 was devastating to me and my family. It was hard enough not to play in the World Cup, but it was even moredifficult to go through that time period, the most difficult timeperiod of my life.'
French test: United States' Eric Wynalda takes on Zeljko Petrovic during the 1-0 defeat by Yugoslavia at the 1998 World Cup finals
Wynalda, however, insists an affair did take place. 'I'm calling it an inappropriate relationship. It was a major contributor to why I'm no longer married,' said Wynalda, a father of three who separated from his wife in 2003 and then divorced.
Wynalda said that when Sampson informed him in the spring of 1998 that he was dropping Harkes, he tried to persuade the coach to change his mind. Sampson didn't recall such a conversation, but said that doesn't mean it didn't take place.
Former striker Wynalda said: 'At that time, I felt that he was still a player that could help our cause and he was still one of the best 22 players in our country.'
Wynalda and Harkes played together just once after that, in a January 2000 friendly against Chile.
'At that point, it was still manageable,' said Wynalda.
'I've suffered quite a bit through this whole process. My healing is over, so I'm OK to talk about it.'
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