Captaincy chaos hits England's Euro plans
Problems on and off field force Capello to prepare for tournament in familiar disarray
Fabio Capello is currently out of the country but when he returns he may well liken the situation with his England squad to that of a parent coming home to find their house trashed by an unsanctioned teenage party, the sofa in the garden and the curtains smouldering. It is four months until a major international tournament and once again the England team is in a state of disarray.
John Terry has had the captaincy removed from him by the board of the Football Association; Jack Wilshere will not play again until April at the earliest and possibly not again this season. Meanwhile, Rio Ferdinand, whose form and fitness have been a doubt anyway, would appear to be at loggerheads with Terry over his brother Anton. This is England 2012. This is a bitter, bloody mess.
The news yesterday that Stewart Downing will not face charges for the alleged assault of his former girlfriend was, all things considered, not quite the salve to the wounds of the national team one might have hoped for in these circumstances. All Capello needs now is for Wayne Rooney to limp out of Stamford Bridge tomorrow, as he did six years ago ahead of the World Cup finals and a rotten week would be complete.
The mess is not of the FA's making. It has made the right decision on Terry and the captaincy and it has at least made it swiftly. The pity is that the FA board did not take it one step further and stand Terry down completely from international football until his case for racially aggravated abuse is resolved on 9 July. His presence within the England set-up is inappropriate given the serious nature of the charges he faces and the representative identity all national teams are supposed to embody.
No one is pre-supposing innocence or guilt in Terry's case, instead it is a simple plea for the FA to exercise judgement, a very difficult aspect of leadership that does not always necessarily tally with precedents and certainly will not meet with universal acclaim. This is a delicate moment in the life of the England team and the FA has not quite been able to go the whole distance and tell Terry to sit it out until the case is resolved.
As has been said before on these pages, the decision the FA was faced with since the adjournment of Terry's case until after Euro 2012 was not one in which it had to predict the outcome of his legal case. It does not have the benefit of hindsight. It was a situation in which the FA had to make the right decision now, on the facts as they stand, and be prepared to suffer the criticism from one side.
Unfortunately the FA board felt unable to go quite that far over Terry. As a consequence, Capello will gather his squad together at the Grove hotel in Hertfordshire on 26 February with one very unhappy player, in Terry, in their midst and no doubt an unsettling effect rippling through the rest of the squad.
Whatever the true feelings of the squad towards him – and certainly there are very few feuds that cannot at least be put to one side by the modern footballer – the simple premise is that England go to Poland and Ukraine to try to win a tournament. The issues that now surround Terry do not do this team's chances any favours in that regard. Capello does not have to build a legal case to leave him out. He just needs a sporting case.
The England manager must also choose a new captain from among the debris. Steven Gerrard had been his go-to guy two years ago when Terry was dismissed but he has removed the Liverpool man from that role so many times that it will be hard to try to build him up again. Capello's team is also changing rapidly and Gerrard has not played an international since November 2010. He might come straight back in to the team, but will he stay in it?
There is little appetite among Capello and his Italian staff to give the job to a goalkeeper so that rules out Joe Hart. Scott Parker, with his First World War officer's haircut and a devoted attitude to self-sacrifice borrowed from the same era, is another candidate. He is the kind of man the FA can rely on not to get in trouble. As Alan Curbishley said when he made the speech at Parker's Player of the Year coronation last year, "Scott is the kind of player who will never need a super-injunction."
Ferdinand has ruled himself out the running and is by no means guaranteed to make the plane to Poland. Gareth Barry is not guaranteed a place in the first team. Rooney set himself back two years in terms of the captaincy by getting himself banned for being pointlessly sent off in Montenegro in October. Ashley Cole has 93 caps and for all the reasons he would be unpopular with certain people he would not want it himself. Not least because of the media commitments he would have to fulfil.
Wilshere, assuming better luck with injuries and barring any disasters in his private life, could well be captaincy material in two years' time. The logical step would be to hand it to Gerrard for now, thank him profoundly, and hope that he can see his international career through to such a time as Wilshere is ready to take over. Chances are, Gerrard could retire after Euro 2012.
Terry will surely step down from international football after this summer's tournament, if he does not do so earlier. That is the reality for Capello. He is faced with picking players such as Gerrard, Terry, Ashley Cole, Barry and possibly Frank Lampard and Ferdinand who are facing the last knockings of their international career. Whether the England manager sees that as an advantage or otherwise will be something that he has to decide over the next five months.
What is not in doubt is that England will convene later this month ahead of their friendly with the Netherlands in a state of disarray. Ahead of the last World Cup finals it was not until the end of March 2010 that Rooney got injured and his form fell off a cliff-edge. It was not until the squad reached South Africa that Ferdinand was badly injured. This time it has started very early.
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