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?