Wags made us a circus, says Rio · Stand-in captain blasts excesses of Eriksson's reign as manager · 'People worried more about what they wore than the football' · Says Capello's regime is 'watertight' by comparison Dominic Fifield in Minsk The Guardian, Wednesday October 15 2008 Article history Rio Ferdinand criticised the 'circus' that was England's participation in the 2006 World Cup. Photograph: Sergei Grits/AP Rio Ferdinand last night launched a scathing attack on the "Wag culture" permitted to flourish under previous England regimes which had rendered the national set-up "a circus", distracting players from the task at hand out on the pitch. The Manchester United defender, who will captain England against Belarus tonight as they attempt to achieve their best-ever start to a World Cup qualifying campaign, is convinced Fabio Capello is already changing the mentality around the team. That should ensure there will be no repeat of the scenes which affected Sven-Goran Eriksson's squad at the 2006 finals when, based in the German spa town of Baden-Baden, their focus was apparently blurred by the presence of the players' wives and girlfriends. England duly slipped meekly out of the tournament at the quarter-final stage, a sense of under-achievement maintained. "If I'm honest, we became a bit of a circus in terms of the whole Wag situation," said Ferdinand. "It seemed like there was a big show around the whole England squad. It was like watching a theatre unfolding and football almost became a secondary element to the main event. "People were worrying more about what people were wearing and where they were going out, rather than the England football team. That then transposed itself into the team. That's said in hindsight. At the time, we were caught up in the bubble ourselves. Being somewhere like Baden-Baden, walking around the town, there were paparazzi everywhere, our families were there. When you step back and look back at that, it was like a circus. "I'm not going to tell the other players what you should or should not do. But I just think that, as a squad, we were a bit too open, going out in and around Baden-Baden, and probably had too much contact with families. That's just my opinion. Some players may think they'd rather have that contact with their families. But you're in a tournament and you don't get to play in many tournaments in your career. To give yourself the best chance, you have to be focused. Having the families around and the paparazzi that were following us, it was all a bit too close and the football wasn't really separated from it all. "This regime is very water-tight. This squad's in a different frame of mind to the ones I've been in for a while. We've got a very business-like state of mind, and that's come from the manager and his staff. It's a new way of thinking. It feels as if we're going in the right direction. I don't want to speak too soon, but you can see we're at the start of something and, hopefully, there'll be bigger rewards than what we've had in the past. Everyone's very focused and tuned in to what we want to achieve." Capello has stamped his authority on the set-up since assuming the reins from Eriksson's No2, Steve McClaren. Basic discipline has been imposed in terms of the team's diet, punctuality at meal times and for squad meetings, and in and around their hotel on get-togethers. Already, the idea of families being present with the side at a major tournament seems inconceivable. There had been grumblings of discontent around the squad at some of the rules imposed by Capello, though the team's start to the World Cup qualifying campaign - they have never won their first four fixtures en route to the tournament - suggests this side is finally progressing. The playing staff are gradually coming to terms with his expectations. The Italian has treated talk of his having imposed new-found discipline on his squad with some baffled amusement. "I just asked them to be professional at training and when they're together," he said. "Normal things. You have to do the same when you work. It's not new. When I was a club manager, when we've been away on long training camps - 10 or 15 days - I said it was OK for the players to see their wives or official girlfriends. Every manager decides how he wants things to run. I have always found the results with the way I do things." "It was very much: 'I'm the boss and this is what is happening'," added Ferdinand. "The lads appreciate that and have warmed to it because that's what happens at their clubs. This is a very professional regime, and very result-orientated. The results come a long way before the performances. You see how the manager is on the training ground, and in our meetings, and it's clear there's a winning mentality there. If we take what he tells us on board, England will go in the right direction." Belarus, although ranked 59th in the world, will test that progress tonight as Capello throws in Wayne Bridge, a left-back with seven minutes of Premier League action behind him this season, for Ashley Cole. Steven Gerrard has also been left concerned over his place. The Liverpool captain is still expected to be employed on the left of midfield, though Capello used his last practice session ahead of the game at the Dinamo stadium to try Stewart Downing on the left with Gerrard occupying a central role.