Bridge tries to get life in order on and off pitch
After the debut from hell, former England full-back Wayne Bridge will be hoping for a smoother transition as his new club West Ham travel to Merseyside to face Everton. And on the first anniversary of one of the Premier League's tawdriest tales, he seems to be enjoying happier times in his private life.
In January last year the story broke that his former best friend and ex-teammate, John Terry, the then-England captain, had an affair with Bridge's partner, Veronica Perroncel, the mother of their son. The scandal saw Bridge announce his international retirement and refuse to shake Terry's hand before a league match at Stamford Bridge last February.
At the age of 30, Bridge is at a personal crossroads as he tries to resurrect an injury-prone career. Once considered England's second-best left-back, he struggled for game time at Manchester City after moving from Chelsea two years ago in a deal believed to be worth GBP10 million (HK$124 million).
During his first appearance on loan for West Ham last weekend, Bridge was given a torrid time by speedy winger Theo Walcott as visiting Arsenal won 3-0 to leave the Hammers at the foot of the table. At fault for all of the goals, Bridge has vowed to do better this weekend as he tries to run the rust out of his legs.
The loan spell at Upton Park seems to be timed perfectly for a new romance with London-based singer Frankie Sandford of girl group The Saturdays. This week, pictures of the couple stepping out on the town were splashed over the tabloids, helping Bridge to move further from last season's troubles.
'You'd have to have a heart of stone not to feel for Wayne Bridge who will forever be associated with a scandal not of his own making,' English soccer author Neil Humphreys said. 'He did nothing wrong, behaved with impeccable dignity, conducted himself with remarkable restraint and did not drag himself down to the level of others involved by refusing to speak about the issue.'
As he maintained his silence, Bridge gave up his dream of playing in a World Cup by making himself unavailable for England's South Africa 2010 squad. His form seemed to suffer as he battled with injuries and confidence.
During sporadic appearances off the bench for Man City, he seemed a shadow of his former self, an impression he has failed to shake so far at West Ham.
'It's impossible to explain the reasons for Bridge's form, but I admire his courage to go on because if the allegations are true, it's amazing that he is still able to get up every morning and play football,' Humphreys said. 'You could see where the crowd's sympathy lies at Upton Park when they gave him warm applause as he took a corner. I think they have had enough of the sleaze.'
Humphreys is the author of a novel, Premier Leech, whose plot is eerily similar to the unfortunate yarn that entwines Bridge, Terry and Perroncel. And according to this self-confessed West Ham fan, the Premier League is becoming increasingly marred by scandals sexual, financial or ethical.
'I love the beautiful game, always will, but the corporate control, the greed, the contempt for the average supporter, the chasm between footballer and fan is getting out of hand,' he said.
'The moment footballers went from being merely well-off to multi-millionaires, part of a VVIP club that plays by its own rule, the goalposts moved. Now they have a coterie of hangers-on, a greedy entourage of agents, lawyers and business managers to buffer them from the ordinary fan, pay off the odd hooker or take out court injuctions to buy a woman's silence.'
In Premier Leech, the story begins with a club's top striker sleeping with his teammate's celebrity wife. Behind the scenes, there are rumblings of a Middle Eastern takeover and dodgy deals involving agents, coaches and star-struck youngsters as a media sting operation tries to catch the culprits in the act.
Humphreys said: 'When I was in the UK promoting my last novel, Match Fixer, the Bridge/Terry scandal broke. I was amazed by the public reaction to the story, which showed the national mood was changing. There was definitely a feeling of 'enough is enough'. Sporting superstars right back to George Best have always been given a certain degree of latitude, but this was going too far.'
Former British prime minister Gordon Brown is among those in recent times to urge modern-day players to be better role models. Humphreys scoffs at claims from some players that they are paid only to kick a ball around.
'No, boys: it doesn't work that way. If you take the money to be the face of a computer game and other things that kids use every day, then maybe you shouldn't have orgies in Las Vegas, ask for your salary to be doubled when the country's going through its worst recession in recent memory and sleep with each others' partners,' he said.
Bridge's attempt to resurrect his career has provided an intriguing sub-plot to West Ham's managerial saga, which saw former Aston Villa boss Martin O'Neill change his mind about taking over after news of his impending appointment was leaked. It means that despite poignantly tossing his claret and blue scarf into the crowd as he walked inside after his 11th league defeat last Saturday, the unpopular Avram Grant will return to the dugout for the trip to Goodison Park.
How quickly his new recruit from Eastlands re-finds his form will have a significant say in how much longer Grant stays in charge - and if West Ham avoid relegation.
One day at a time, Bridge is getting his life back in order, on and off the pitch.