John Terry Rudely Interrupts the Olympics

Football always comes back like a bull in a china shop, but this year, with those marvellous Olympics still going on, it has returned with all the grace and timing of rubbish thrown over the fence. The news that John Terry has retained the England captaincy only reinforces the hunch that we are going through dark days in our national sport.

But there was no other realistic decision. Here’s what Terry is reported to have said about his success:

“It is a great achievement for me. I am very proud. My target now is to qualify [for the World Cup]. I think I am a role model on and off the field. (Ed: my emphasis!) I do a lot, I wear my heart on my sleeve and do everything I can do.

“It makes me proud to think managers like Capello, Mourinho and Scolari have given it to me. It makes me feel very special. With the players I was competing with, it is extra special. I am absolutely delighted and we have got to make the most of it.”

Terry is also reported to have described his response to the Champions League Final defeat as being evidence of his big character. In fact, it’s all evidence for something quite different, pointing towards the situation Capello would have faced had he made any different decision. Were Rio Ferdinand appointed, the story would not have been about his achievement, but about Terry’s failure. I believe, as do some commentators here, that a reverse over the captaincy would have been too much for Terry to bear.

In 1990 and 1996, Chris Waddle, Stuart Pearce and Gareth Southgate all missed crucial penalties in games of far greater importance for English football than the 2008 Champions League Final. All of them were distraught at the time. Amid comparable hysteria to 2008’s, Waddle kept his counsel, and had his best ever season for Marseille immediately afterwards, narrowly missing out on the European Player of the Year award. Likewise Stuart Pearce, who took Nottingham Forest to an FA Cup Final a year later, and then waited six years before doing his talking about “that” penalty on the pitch. Southgate did a self-denigrating pizza advert. The contrast with Terry is telling.

John Terry’s next game after the missed penalty was an England international, and he scored in it, against the United States, no longer minor opposition. After the game, he said:

“The manager gave me a huge boost when he told me I was going to be captain and, hopefully, I’ve repaid him. I’ve shown that I’m a big man. I take full responsibility for what happened in Moscow but I’m a man for the big games and I’ve shown that.”

At least he admits that he missed the penalty before he fell over. But does this sound to you, in all honesty, like someone who is ready to relinquish the captaincy and then give all for club and country? I know what it sounds like to me.

Clearly Capello is ready to trust Rio Ferdinand to do just that, after months in which the Manchester United man was allowed to see himself as the favourite for the role. The England manager would have known what was being reported, and what was reaching the players. His decision speaks volumes for whom he considers to have the strongest character. Terry is captain to keep him onside, and to prevent a press autopsy. Beyond that, recent events have shown him to be only one of a number of fairly unremarkable candidates.

At the same time come comments about how little has changed since Steve McClaren was sacked. The same players, although – in my opinion – a decided improvement in midfield, England’s weakest area.

These comments are unfair both on McClaren – who did, after all, come up with the Barry-Gerrard midfield in the first place – and on Capello. It’s obvious to any serious observer that until the U21s have another season or two’s experience, the Ericksson/McClaren squad is all we have to go on. Put up against our Olympians, they look pretty poor stuff, I agree.

It’s our best serious Olympics ever – and an object lesson about what can be achieved when xenophobia and bigotry between English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish are put to bed. Did anyone spot the face in the crowd – the one English football thought it could well do without?

3 Replies to “John Terry Rudely Interrupts the Olympics”

  1. Personally, I think it’s an unsurprising decision, possibly even an inevitable one, but a depressing one nonetheless. (If you’re English; I’m not.)

    JT (as we were once coached to call him) is quite effectively satirised by the Guardian’s football staff as “England’s Brave John Terry”; great at shouting and playing on after head knocks, not necessarily what you’d call your thinking man’s England captain.

    The problem is that the other candidates all have obvious demerits. Is Ferdinand a long-term first choice? I suppose, with the retirement of Carragher and the failure to come through [thus far] of Ledley King, Micah Richards or any others, yes he is. But I’d still have some subliminal ethical qualms over handing the armband to a man that served a long ban for missing a drugs test. I imagine I’m probably in a minority there, though.

    Owen? Too injury-prone to hand the armband on a continuing basis – though I very much hope he overcomes his recent woes and does well.

    Lampard? No. It might well prompt him to kiss the badge even more plangently than he currently does, but I’m not at all convinced that Lampard should be a first choice for England – though if he plays well for Chelsea obviously I’d revisit that judgement.

    That leaves Gerrard, who would be my personal choice. Yes, he’s often underperformed for England, but to some extent that can be mitigated by the fact that he’s so often played out of position, or alongside a player that all the evidence suggests he’s manifestly unsuited to running a midfield with. But he remains, for my money, England’s most inspirational player (apart perhaps from Rooney, and every so often Joe Cole) and an *actual* role model for how England’s footballers should behave.

    Giving him the captaincy would have been a minor gamble, but even recent history is replete with such examples; Cantona at United, say, or even Beckham’s captaincy, which (it’s hard to believe, now) raised eyebrows – Peter Taylor’s greatest gift to England. Giving players the captaincy can lift and inspire them. It might have done the same with Gerrard, even if the appointment might have been a relatively short-to-medium term one.

    I could only wish to have John Terry in my team (Scotland or Rangers). But I don’t think he will be a vintage England captain.

  2. I suspect that the fuss made about captaincy of the football side may be a peculiarly English phenomenon. I’s only football, for heaven’s sake. He doesn’t need to set the field or choose who bowls; nor does he have to decide whether penalties are aimed at goal, nor to discuss tactics with the pack leader and the fly-half.
    From a remark in this morning’s Telegraph, I infer that Capello also wonders what all the fuss is about.

  3. Sorry James, but this is unmitigated sour grapes. Terry is the only sensible candidate; Ferdinand is a fine player but he’s not even his club captain, and there’s a reason for that – which appears to have been overlooked in the press stampede to get Rio appointed.

    You might not like or understand it, but Terry has the respect of those he plays with and those who have managed him. He might not express himself to your satisfaction in the press, but he clearly has something to offer in the dressing room, which is where the captain really does his job. He clearly excites strong emotions (ha!) among those who know him as much as those who don’t.

    These bizarre conspiracy theories (which appear to contradict much of what you have written previously on this subject regarding Capello, who was, I thought, teasing Terry, deliberately insulting him before giving the armband to Rio) does you a disservice – it makes more sense to acknowledge that footballers react in a different way to certain types of personality than you might prefer.

    It also might make sense to acknowledge that perhaps Terry isn’t as bad/evil as you – and your selective quotations – make out.

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