Sunday, 7 March 2010
It's one of the oldest and most consistent World Cup traditions, the England football team being plunged into controversy and scandal by the gutter press in the build up to a tournament. Last time News of the World hit us with the Fake Sheikh, a scandal that completely derailed our promising campaign in 2006, and this year it's all about John Terry and his alleged affair with team mate Wayne Bridge's ex-girlfriend.
So to save you having to read through a ton of discussion to get to the verdict, we'll begin by asking the direct question, 'does John Terry deserve to be captain?' My answer to this is 'definitely not'. While he is a great captain and a top footballer, this kind of disrespect towards a team mate is simply inexcusable from anyone on the team, let alone the captain. The captain has to be the centre of that team, a unifying force for all the players, and a position of respect, trust, and loyalty, and Terry has failed with all those aspects.
But that is not the same question as 'should John Terry have been dropped?' The World Cup is upon us now, the worst time to make drastic and potentially divisive changes to the make up of the squad, and no doubt that is exactly why News of the World chose to break this story now so soon to the tournament. This alleged affair happened well over a year ago, and News of the World have been sitting on it for that entire year, waiting for the most controversial moment in which to milk it.
It seems there are two reasons why one might have chosen to change the captain now. The first is for issues of "morality"; the England captain should be a role model for everyone, especially for his team mates, and John Terry clearly isn't. It is also hard for the media to make a moral argument after so manipulatively timing this news story to coincide with the World Cup, when it would sell the most papers and cause the biggest headache for the manager. However, the biggest problem with the moral argument is that Terry's replacement, Rio Ferdinand, has a fairly sketchy past himself with his fair share of scandals, and the other potential choice, Steven Gerrard, is not much better. However, Capello made clear before making his decision such matters weren't going to play a part in his thinking.
Instead, the decision came down to what would be best for the team spirit and unity amongst the squad. In this regard, I think Capello has made a big mistake. For starters, the entire England squad and backroom staff have been well aware of the incident for the past year before the story broke, with no noticeable change in form or team unity during that time. Not to mention that Terry had the backing of the England team, prior to the decision.
So it would certainly seem that Terry's actions have had no clear effect on performance or team spirit, and that Capello's decision was probably out of concern for how the media pressure might effect the team. This is where Capello has made his mistake, two of them in fact.
He has completely misread the nature of the British gutter press, notorious for their shameless shenanigans, if he really thought that giving them what they wanted would kill the story and force them to move on. In fact if anything he has legitimised these bottom feeders and poured fuel on the fire, where the best action would have been to simply ignore their stunts.
He has also completely misread the reaction of the fans. He has seen the outrage and anger towards Terry and not realised that this is simply the nature of English football fans. The "boo boys" have been around for years, aiming their vitriol at players simply because they didn't like them previously for whatever reason. In this case, Chelsea fans have been supporting Terry, and non Chelsea fans have been calling for him to be dropped, the exact same positions they would have taken even if not for this scandal.
The pressure from the fans is nothing to do with what Terry actually did, it's simply a product of the partisan rivalries of football fans. Past managers have kept team unity high by resisting such petty pressures and trying to get players to put club matters out of their mind before a game, Capello here has done the exact opposite, potentially driving a wedge between England fans at a time when he need the country to be more unified than ever.
This is one of the reasons why hiring a foreign manager is risky. An Englishman probably would have been more astute with his reading of the situation, more familiar with the quirks of the fans and the media in this country, and as it stands, Capello has stoked on the media to push even more controversy and pressure, and pitted England fans against each other in the build up to a World Cup tournament. If our mediocre performance at home against lowly Egypt wasn't enough of a warning then I worry about our prospects.
So in summary, does John Terry deserve to be England captain? No. Was it the right decision ahead of a major tournament, in terms of what's best for the team? Probably not, it's hard to make a case for either a moral or performance-based reason that can stand up to scrutiny, and the only justification for Capello's explanation is a complete misunderstanding of the sad dynamics of English football.