England defender Rio Ferdinand said the national team set-up was like a circus until the arrival of Italian Fabio Capello as manager in January.
The Manchester United defender, who will captain his country against Belarus in a World Cup qualifier in Minsk on Wednesday as stand-in for the injured John Terry, told reporters the players became obsessed by their celebrity lifestyles.
"I think we got caught up in all the hype," Ferdinand was quoted as saying in British media on Wednesday. "We became celebrities in terms of the WAG (wives and girlfriends) situation. There was a big show around the England squad.
"It was like a theatre unfolding and football became a secondary element to the main event. We were caught in the bubble ourselves."
Ferdinand's claims focused mainly on the 2006 World Cup, when manager Sven-Goran Eriksson allowed the WAGs to stay near the team hotel in the German spa town of Baden-Baden.
"In Baden-Baden, there were paparazzi everywhere, our families were there. When you step back it was like a circus," Ferdinand was quoted as saying in The Times.
England lost in a shootout to Portugal at the quarter-final stage in Germany following a goalless draw.
Ferdinand contrasted the freedom the players previously enjoyed with Capello's strict approach, which has included banning family, friends and agents from the team hotel.
"This is a very, very professional regime," Ferdinand added. "Very result-orientated, very much like a lot of our clubs. The results come a long way before the performances.
"You see how he (Capello) is on the training ground, in our meetings, that there's a winning mentality there."
England will try to make it four wins from four qualifiers in Belarus.
"This regime is very watertight. We have to take everything we can from the manager because of his vast experience," added Ferdinand. "If we can do that, England will go in the right direction.
"I don't want to speak too soon, but you can see that we're at the start of something and, hopefully, there will be bigger rewards than we have had in the past."