The snow is on the ground, and there are still five months until the European Championships begin, but there is an unmistakeable mood in the air. It is England-fatigue. Definition: apathy, bordering on extreme pessimism/irritation with the national football team vis-a-vis their chances at a forthcoming major tournament.
It took John Terry's second sacking as England captain last week to remind people that when it comes to having the most dysfunctional national team among the big football-playing countries, we really are world-class. Yes, the French had a go at taking our title in 2010 with their walk-out at training during the World Cup but where are they now? Harmonious and back on song, that's where.
It is only February yet Fabio Capello already has close to the full set of calamities. 1) Terry, deposed as captain and now seething. 2) Squad/media firestorm brewing with Rio Ferdinand (see point 1). 3) Long-term injury to young emergent star almost certain to lead to knife-edge decision as to the wisdom of taking him to the tournament this summer (see Jack Wilshere). 4) Diverse disappointments/ concerns (see form of Andy Carroll, Steven Gerrard's fitness).
It is hard to think how it could get worse. James Milner being arrested for people-trafficking? Scott Parker testing positive for miaow-miaow? I jest. But we all know that Capello's not laughing.
It is at times like these when it is important to remember why the England team – its success, its captain, and the relevance of international football in the modern game – is important. England-fatigue is a perfectly understandable condition in times of crisis but it need not be terminal.
The concept of the England team will always be rejected wholesale by some supporters, but last week was not a bad week for the national side. That would have been the case if the Football Association had done nothing. It should have gone further and told Terry to stand down until his case for racial abuse is resolved, but in taking away the captaincy the FA showed it does strive to do the right thing. A footballer on a racial abuse charge is not an appropriate captain for the England team. Those who bang on about Terry being innocent until proved guilty fail to see that no one has suggested Terry is guilty. This is a more sophisticated judgement call. Whether Terry is proved innocent or guilty in July is irrelevant to the decision made last week.
However much as the events of the last week may have contributed to the sense of looming chaos around the team, it also stood as a reminder as to why international football deserves protecting. It is the level of the game at which the richest, most famous players in the world play for virtually nothing. Players cannot be bought or sold. National associations cannot be acquired. Unlike some of the most famous clubs in our country, the FA, bless them, could never be taken over by an unscrupulous owner.
International football is under pressure from the big clubs of Europe like never before. Their representative body, the European Club Association, wants to reduce international football to two friendlies every two years.
At the other end of the scale is Fifa, nominally the defender of international football but a discredited, chaotic organisation that voted to stage a World Cup in a desert.
With those two forces putting the death squeeze on international football, it really is a wonder that it survives at all. Yet what the Terry issue told us last week is that people care deeply about the notion of the England team.
Capello might find it hard to accept, but the England team remains one of the few aspects of the English game that have not been swallowed up by the demands of the distant billionaires and the private-equity moguls who own many of our clubs. The FA, for all its faults, cannot pack up and disappear on a private jet when things get tough.
As Capello stares out from his Wembley office this week, he will wonder at how his employers refuse to make life easy for themselves. But given the circumstances the game found itself in last week, that is a strength, not a weakness.Reuse content