Fabio Capello's rule of iron continued last night when the England manager suggested John Terry had lost the chance to captain his country against France tonight because of his behaviour towards the referee Mike Riley at White Hart Lane last week. The elevation of Rio Ferdinand to the captaincy demonstrated the Italian will not tolerate misbehaviour when it comes to England players.
Terry will look back ruefully upon his decision to confront Riley in the aftermath of his Chelsea team-mate Ashley Cole's shocking tackle on Tottenham's Alan Hutton last Wednesday. Capello was uncompromising when reminded of Terry's behaviour that night. "We need to be role models when we play for England and when we play for our clubs," he said. "Part of this involves fair play and respect towards the referee and the public who come to see the games. We need to get back something we may be losing a bit."
The Football Association could not have asked for a more resounding response to its call for greater respect for match officials than that. Asked later whether he had explained his decision to Terry, Capello, who made the impromptu announcement to the players while they ate lunch yesterday, said: "I don't have to explain my decisions to anyone."
The FA's £6m-a-year man continues to keep his players on their toes and the rest of us guessing. Terry's explanation for his actions that night was that he was ushering the Chelsea players away from Riley and the former captain will be able to console himself that he will get a chance at regaining his old job. Capello said that he would not make a permanent decision until the August friendly against the Czech Republic. "Until then," he said, "John Terry has a chance to become England captain."
Terry has had another embarrassment in the last week – the tabloid revelation that he left his car in a disabled parking bay may not have been front-page news, but it appears little escapes Capello's attention. Nevertheless, his charge sheet is certainly no worse than the various misdemeanors accumulated by Ferdinand, who gave his first England captain's press conference yesterday still looking surprised.
Capello waved away the most notable of Ferdinand's transgressions, his missed drugs test in September 2003, the leaking of which sparked mutiny among the England squad and subsequently earned the defender an eight-month ban. The 29-year-old is undoubtedly an engaging personality but, when it comes to the reformation of his judgement, he will still have to prove Capello's assertion that "the past is the past".
The Italian said that he was well aware of Ferdinand's ban that caused him to miss the Euro 2004 finals. "From what I've seen in the games I've watched and the five days I've had him train with me, I've seen a very good professional," Capello said. "He can be a very good England captain."
Making Ferdinand captain is not as fanciful as it might seem. He is understood to have given an impressive dressing-room speech before the friendly against Switzerland and, outside football, his charitable works have been notable, including travelling to Uganda to support a football academy. However, his recent admonishing of the press for naming him as the leading light in Manchester United's infamous players' Christmas party rang hollow when he then refused to name the organiser.
In short, when Ferdinand says that he has learnt from his mistakes there is always a nagging doubt that he might not have. "It's taken me a while to realise the responsibility of being a professional footballer," Ferdinand said. "But I've grasped that now. Maturity is part of it. I've got a young family. I'm not ashamed to say I made mistakes growing up and I might do again in the future but, as costly as I did in the past? I hope not."
Nevertheless, if Ferdinand can prove he has left behind the hellraising – he now has a baby son, Lorenz – then it will be a remarkable road to redemption. As well as the missed drugs test, he has four driving disqualifications, including a drink-driving rap that caused Glenn Hoddle to delay giving him his international debut in 1997. Add to that the infamous Ayia Napa sex video in 2000 and a few other indiscretions that have made the tabloids.
Over to Ferdinand: "I think everyone goes through ups and downs in their careers, and their lives. It's how you come out. Do you take it on board and use it to your advantage? I've come out stronger. The gaffer [Capello] carries himself in a very respectful manner. We, in turn, try to carry out what he expects. Respect is a big part of being in an England team. It's at the forefront of people's minds after what's happened in the Premier League. We've got to be role models and respect that people look up to us."
Should Ferdinand get the captaincy on a permanent basis, his appointment will carry extra significance as the first black England captain to be appointed to the job – Paul Ince and Sol Campbell have worn the armband but only in the absence of another.
Tonight England face one of Europe's most successful teams. Beckham will play some part against France, Capello confirmed, and he must be glad that the in-form Franck Ribéry is on the opposite wing. "It would have been very cruel of me to make him come all the way from the US and not play him," Capello said, before cracking a rare joke. "You wish that I was that cruel."
Apart from that the team remains a mystery, even to the players, although Capello hinted that Steven Gerrard will play as an auxiliary striker to Wayne Rooney. Capello showed no sympathy for the young players he has left out – "We will continue to follow younger players, but I believe they need to be brought into a group that is working," he said. It is a group that has no idea what surprise the manager will spring next – and Capello seems to like it that way.