Even to a public long since inured to his follies and his faux pas, the latest indiscretion in the peccadillo circus that has now engulfed John Terry's career was always likely to be too much to bear for some. Chest swollen, armband on, the England captain strode on to the Wembley pitch last night to what might politely be termed a mixed reception. It is safe to say Terry, as ever, will have heard only the cheers.
Few of his predecessors in the prestigious post he occupies with such evident pride have been quite as divisive as the Chelsea captain. Those predecessors he cites as influences – Tony Adams and Bryan Robson – were hardly universally loved; the scale of loathing Terry inspires in his detractors, though, would have been unimaginable to both. That does not seem to matter to the 30-year-old.
Whether he is the least popular England captain in history is a debate so futile as to be ignored, but that there is a considerable gulf between Terry's self-perception and how the rest of the world views him is certain.
His impression is that he is cast in the mould of those lionhearts, those leaders of men he grew up watching, the ones who dragged their teams to victory through sheer force of will, those Captain Marvels. He is a hero as the comic books imagine them.
As he described on the eve of this controversial appearance, he learnt his style of captaincy from Dennis Wise: whatever trouble there was away from the pitch, away from battle, he was always the first to draw his sword.
To Terry, such is courage. And so he never considered withdrawing from Fabio Capello's squad for this fixture, and the victory over Spain which preceded it, in order to quiet a rising storm.
Indeed, he maintains he would have liked to have played in that dogged win against the world and European champions, and insists he would not have flinched at the thought of facing the press, either, even with his reputation now at the mercy of the Metropolitan Police. Such is Terry's style of captaincy. "Part of the duty," he said, "is coming out and facing up to it."
As off the pitch, so on it: here, he spent his evening throwing himself into tackles, relishing the physical challenge set by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Johan Elmander, fighting for every header. Chest swollen, armband on: Terry the warrior, Terry the captain, Terry the talisman.
It is his favourite role. The problem he faces, though, is that his courage can look craven, his pride could be interpreted as posturing.
Of course, Terry did not consider excusing himself from international duty in the aftermath of the Anton Ferdinand affair: after all, this is a man who was genuinely disappointed to be stripped of the England captaincy after apparently indulging in an extramarital affair with a team-mate's partner, a man who tried to retain his post like the worst kind of serpentine careerist. No repentance, no remorse, not for that, and not for any of the litany of offences on his rap sheet.
Few footballers are as conscious of their public image as Terry: in that respect, the captain he most resembles is David Beckham. It is unimaginable he is unaware of the mixed feelings he inspires. Part of him must have heard those jeers as he walked on to the pitch last night, as he took his first touch, won his first header, and part of him must have hurt. And still he shrugs it off. That is Terry's true courage; it is simply that it is not one to applaud.Reuse content