Defiant, unapologetic and emotional: Terry snatches back England armband

Defender concedes he is not a universal first choice but only regrets that criticism of Capello during last year's World Cup became public

It only ever became uncomfortable when, at the end of his press briefing yesterday, John Terry was asked about the possibility of one day rekindling his friendship with Wayne Bridge and the new England captain answered tersely in the negative without any attempt at charm.

Other than that, the return of Terry to the England captaincy, precisely one year, one month and 19 days since he was sacked by Fabio Capello was another classic performance from one of the most controversial figures in modern English football. Was he about to say sorry? No. Did he have anything to say sorry about? Debatable.

Will he be able to keep his nose clean from now on? Who knows?

Whatever your view on Terry, no one could deny he is one tough customer. The storm that engulfed his life 13 months ago – involving his former friend Bridge, Bridge's ex-fiancée Vanessa Perroncel and an old-fashioned sex scandal – might have destroyed weaker characters but here was Terry, chipper as ever, ready to lead England out as captain against Wales in Saturday's Euro 2012 qualifier, in his third stint in the job.

At various moments yesterday he was self-deprecating, light-hearted and, when the mood took him, even emotional. What he was not was apologetic.

A younger Terry, more eager to please and less sure of himself, might have been talked into admitting to a few faults of his own but those days are long gone. A couple of hours earlier he had stood on the training pitch at Arsenal's training ground and listened while Capello explained to the squad that he had been reinstated as captain and if there were any questions they should be aired there and then.

Unsurprisingly, no one raised a hand. For Terry that is enough to put to bed all those stories about him being an unpopular figure in the dressing room. Fair enough, but these are professional footballers we are talking about. They have plenty to say in private to agents and confidantes but offer them a public forum for their views and they tend to stare at their toes and keep their counsel.

"As we get older, we live and learn. We move on," Terry said. "As a man, as a player, we can see I've moved on, on and off the field. I concentrate on doing the right thing, playing well for Chelsea and for my country. I feel I've done that. I don't want to get into too much detail about 'moving on', but it's a massive thing for me today. The emotion is quite overwhelming. I'm delighted on a personal note."

There was no major peace offering to Capello following his decision to strip Terry of the captaincy last February. He accepted it at the time, Terry said, but that did not mean he agreed with it.

"I didn't agree with the decision [to sack him in February], which I told them face to face, but I said I respected their decision and I'll continue to work hard," Terry said. "I could understand it a little bit, but once they spoke to me – and once again it's difficult for legal reasons to go into detail – I just felt I didn't deserve to lose the armband."

That caveat of "legal reasons" was dropped in more than once by Terry, although he did not expand on what those reasons were, much less what they restricted him from saying. What was not in doubt was that this must be a man so confident he must be sure that there are no skeletons in the cupboard that could embarrass him again.

Although it was just the Perroncel saga and the ensuing media firestorm for which he was sacked by Capello, there was before that an ill-judged email in November 2009 offering to companies the chance to sign an endorsement deal with the England captain. It was an embarrassment.

"I never tried to cash in on anything," Terry said. "There was an issue with the statement [email] that went out initially, that had nothing to do with me. It was a company that didn't represent me. I've never cashed in. I'm not the best looking guy anyway, so people aren't going to want me spread all over the place. But I've never tried to cash in on the England captaincy."

Observing Terry, the thought occurred that this unflappable aspect of his character must be what Capello admires so much to go through the upheaval of reappointing him. Terry may not be, in his own words, "everyone's cup of tea" but he knows that football tends to reward those who do not wilt under the pressure. He could never be accused of that.

He was unrepentant about his outspoken criticism of Capello after the Algeria game during last summer's turgid World Cup although there was one concession that in the future he would not be quite so open. "I just wouldn't come out publicly and say what I said," Terry said. "It would stay in-house. That's what I learnt.

"I didn't want to go home from the World Cup early. I thought we had a real chance with the squad we had. It was our time. People were peaking in their careers. English teams had had a good time in Europe for four or five years and gained a lot of top-level experience. I thought that would bode well for that tournament. I wasn't prepared to sit back and accept that. Looking back, certain things I shouldn't have said, but I can still hold my head up high."

Not even the criticism of him last year from the Wales striker Craig Bellamy – "I know what JT is like and nothing surprises me about it" – affected his composure. Yesterday Terry played the role of England captain well. The challenge now is how long he can keep it like that.

Terry timeline

29 January 2010 A High Court injunction is lifted, leaving media outlets free to report details of John Terry's alleged affair with the ex-girlfriend of former team-mate Wayne Bridge.

5 February Terry is called to a Wembley meeting with Fabio Capello, where he is stripped of the captaincy. Rio Ferdinand replaces him.

27 February Bridge, who retired from international football earlier the same week, refuses to shake Terry's hand as Manchester City visit Chelsea for a league match.

3 March In first England game since losing the captaincy, Terry is booed by sections of Wembley crowd during a 3-1 win over Egypt. Captain's armband is passed around players, with Terry later claiming "they would have given it to one of the stewards ahead of me. It was disrespectful."

20 June Terry speaks of dressing room disharmony following poor start to World Cup. Capello calls outburst "a very big mistake."

19 March 2011 Capello restores the Chelsea defender to the captaincy, claiming "one year's punishment is enough."

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