Four games, five different captains and at least two bruised egos in the changing room before Fabio Capello decided that he would stick with John Terry after all. It would have been interesting to learn exactly what it was that persuaded the Italian of Terry's suitability to the job but short of his assertion that the man from Chelsea has a "big personality", the Football Association's £6m man was conspicuously short on insight yesterday.
Sitting alongside his manager, Terry, the first man to be appointed England captain twice within the space of two years (and eight days), must have been as baffled as the rest of us as to Capello's reasoning. Like a footballer who spends his close-season indulging himself and returns out of shape, so this summer Capello has allowed his hitherto improving grasp of the English language to become flabby and sluggish. No-one would blame him for wanting to spend his holidays as far away as possible from the dreadful weather in London but unfortunately the result yesterday was that no-one knew what he was talking about.
If all we have to go on is that Capello is an admirer of Terry's "big personality" then surely he could have discovered that by a much less roundabout route. Indeed if he needed to know that Terry shouts and directs his team-mates during a game more than any other England player then he could have wandered out into Soho Square and asked the first Englishman he bumped into. Luiz Felipe Scolari appears to have taken all of about eight seconds to make up his mind that he would be keeping Terry as Chelsea captain, Capello has taken eight months to come to the same conclusion for England.
It did not help matters yesterday that Capello insisted on persevering in a language of which he is not yet the master: on reflection he should have taken the Steve McClaren approach to foreign languages and spoken Italian with an English accent – and let the excellent interpreter provided by the FA take care of the rest. It made for an uncomfortable occasion for Terry who on one occasion had to step in to clear up the mess of incomprehension left by his manager. Everyone looked fairly ill at ease.
There was not much explanation as to why Rio Ferdinand was overlooked other than, Capello said, he just rated Terry more highly than the Manchester United man. "It's not an easy choice because Rio Ferdinand is a very important player and I like him as a captain," Capello said. "He's very good. But I chose John because I think we need one captain with a big personality. In every moment."
That, in a nutshell, was Ferdinand's case dismissed and Capello has a player who, from being nonplussed about the captaincy eight months ago, must now feel that he has lost out. There are many reasons why Ferdinand would have coveted the job, not least because there has never been a black player officially appointed captain of England, although a few black players have had the job temporarily. Most of all Ferdinand had been given a little bit of hope only for it to be subsequently crushed.
Capello prickled when he was asked why he had raised the hopes of Ferdinand, who was captain against France in the defeat in Paris in March and had generally thought to have made a good job of it. "I think it's very important to know a lot of players as captain, it's very important," Capello said. "After I know the players, I choose. Because one player told me this is good, and others said it wasn't, I had to know the players."
Steven Gerrard was out of the running immediately after a performance as captain in the first game against Switzerland that Capello thought privately was too timid and there was more bad news for the Liverpool captain too. Capello announced that Ferdinand was "vice-captain", which is a job as meaningless as it sounds although one that nevertheless did once belong to Gerrard. What was obvious was that none of the England players have a clue what their manager is thinking most of the time, not least Terry who still looked faintly stunned yesterday.
You have to hand it to Terry the comeback kid who, in the last year, has been sacked as England captain, watched as his team-mates were auditioned for the job, missed the decisive penalty in the Champions League final and has now been reinstated. He has struggled with some terrible injuries as well, missing England's decisive Euro 2008 qualifying games against Russia (away) and Croatia at Wembley. He broke three bones in his foot against Arsenal in December and dislocated his elbow on the last day of the season. But with Terry, the key to success as the England captain second time around will also involve his behaviour off the field.
Now working for a manager whose notion of proper behaviour can at times seem to have been lifted directly from a Jane Austen novel, the England captain will have to make sure that his own conduct is whiter than white. Capello has made it clear that he will not tolerate indiscretion and he is much less likely to turn a blind eye to an embarrassing newspaper story than McClaren, who featured in one himself. To give Terry his due, he has not troubled the tabloids of late although it will not take much to shock the England manager.
What is plain about Terry's appeal to Capello is the Chelsea man's ability to raise his team in moments of crisis. Ideally, you suspect that Capello would like an English clone of Franco Baresi, his first captain at Milan, who would dictate games with authority and then – guessing by how long he went on playing – watched what he ate and went to bed early. Instead he has Terry, who is a leader from the old school, much more so than Ferdinand, Gerrard or David Beckham and Gareth Barry who got one half each as captain against Trinidad and Tobago. It just took Capello a long time to realise it.
Terry's England record
England debut: v Serbia & Mont'ngro (Walkers Stadium, June 2003, won 2-1, friendly).
England captaincy debut: v Greece (Old Trafford, August 2006, won 4-0, friendly).
Terry was appointed captain by Steve McClaren for his first match in charge, scoring in a 4-0 win at Old Trafford. He also captained his country against USA in a 2-0 win as Fabio Capello weighed up his options.
England record: 44 caps, 4 goals
Record as captain: P14 W8 D4 L2 F27 A6