John Terry's second demotion from the England captaincy in exactly two years has left England managers past and present as divided as the rest of the football community – including the squad itself. Fabio Capello is furious at having a decision taken for him that he clearly believes is the manager's prerogative and Terry Venables, who led England to the semi-finals of Euro 96, yesterday described the move as "an astonishing knee-jerk reaction – illogical and ill-thought out". Yet Graham Taylor believes it to be the least bad decision for a Football Association caught between a rock and hard place.
One thing all neutrals can agree upon is that with the injury to England's one creative player, Jack Wilshere, Wayne Rooney's suspension and now internal tensions, England's European Championship campaign has all the hallmarks of another anticlimax. Bad judgement, ill-discipline and misfortune are conspiring against them to the extentthat the best hope is of expectations being so low by June that almost any outcome will exceed them.
It has come to something when the best news of the week is that one of Capello's players will not be charged following his arrest. That was the verdict on Liverpool's Stewart Downing, who had been released on bail following an alleged assault in a Teesside pub.
In Terry's case, of course, there was found to be sufficient evidence for a court case, which to the FA's horror was delayed until after the European finals. If Terry felt that this was the best outcome, he was shown to have misread the mood at Wembley, quickly confirmed when the FA chairman, David Bernstein, took soundings from his board members during Thursday.
Taylor only took England to one international tournament and finished it with his head depicted as a root vegetable in the country's best-selling daily newspaper, but having reinvented himself as an informed and balanced media pundit, he will be part of the BBC radio team in Poland and Ukraine this summer, with no reason to believe the adventure will be any more successful.
His one problem with a captain was when he dared to remove the squeaky-clean Gary Lineker not from the leadership but from the pitch, during the final game of that dreadful Euro 92 tournament in Sweden. He did, however, later face criticism for picking Tony Adams, who had served eight weeks in Chelmsford prison for a drink-driving offence. At least on that occasion, the FA hierarchy and the manager were of one opinion.
He understands Capello's annoyance at being told to remove his captain once more, but believes the current manager made a mistake in reinstating Terry after a year, infuriating his successor, Rio Ferdinand, in the process.
"Reappointing John has given him this problem," Taylor said. "There were people in the FA who didn't agree with that, but they left it to him. Now they've stepped in and taken the decision because they could see Capello was not going to. I'm not sure he has adapted to our ways and seen how much importance we put on the England captaincy, as opposed to in Italy. But you can see the hurt in Rio."
Taylor favours Steven Gerrard as the next captain, although he has not played for England for 15 months. He is more concerned about whether the Chelsea captain's form will merit a starting place as a 31-year-old in June, especially if Ferdinand at 33 is alongside him. "People think it's easy to play centre-back but it's not, above all in in international football, where it's a vital position, because of the quality of people you come up against.
"They're sharp and quick and want to get into that space behind you, and as you get older you don't get any quicker. Turning sharply and quickly is not one of John Terry's strengths. Watch any centre-half as his legs begin to slow down a bit and they tend not to push up so much, don't bring the back line out and get very worried about that space in behind. The FA couldn't win but Capello has now been put in a position where if he says he is not picking him for purely football reasons, nobody will believe him."
Could Gary Cahill become a rival rather than a potential partner for Terry? Taylor remembers him as a youngster during his second spell as manager of Aston Villa: "A good lad, who every now and then loses concentration". There is no new Des Walker, as in 1992, to match just about any forward in the world for pace. Nor is there a Rooney, for the first two group matches at least, or in all probability a Wilshere, the one player to bring some genuine craft to a midfield now dependent on honest toiling and Gerrard's shooting.
"But when do we ever have a full selection?" lamented Taylor, who 20 years ago lost John Barnes and his only right-back in the final warm-up match, and went to the tournament one man short. England were still burdened by great expectations. This time, four months in advance, they are diminishing fast.
Duncan Penny QC, who will act for the CPS in the case against John Terry, was in the prosecution team in the trial of Gary Dobson and David Norris, who were convicted for the murder of Stephen Lawrence. Last year, Penny prosecuted Charlie Gilmour – the son of Pink Floyd guitarist Dave – who received 16 months for violent disorder.
Terry is charged with a racially aggravated public order offence involving the QPR defender Anton Ferdinand. He denies the charge.