James Lawton: Enter Capello, the man who must now end the Terry saga

The England manager faces the toughest test of his reign, with sport's principles and his own reputation for discipline on the line
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The Independent Online

Maybe it is true Fabio Capello is biting the bullet, in this case the antique item known as principle, before granting another reprieve to his serially yob captain John Terry.

But if it is so we can only hope the scale of the indulgence is not lost in all the crayon daubing of the trendy opinion that Terry's crime is no more than to be caught, as so many of his team-mates have been in the past, in some mere sexual indiscretion.

The issue – it needs to be emphasised with probably despairing force at this stage of the game – is not sex, no more than it is embedded in some fatuous belief that because sexual mores have changed, at least in their public acceptance, some classic rules of behaviour are no longer relevant to the task of leadership.

No, let's be clear about it, the argument is to do with selfishness and irresponsibility and betrayal and what these failings say about the appropriateness of a captain with the track record of John Terry.

His crimes have been listed often enough in the last few days, but at no cost to the determination of many to isolate his current plight in the circumstances of one particularly squalid sexual adventure.

The latest argument in favour of Terry's survival is the apparent support of senior members of the England team. This is a particularly sickening development for all those who have gloried in Capello's perceived ability to remind every member of his squad that their job is to listen and to work and to play to the required professional standard.

Capello is supposed to be the anti-thesis of Sven Goran Eriksson. He is supposed to be the leader, the disciplinarian, not the man who believes that if you are celebrated enough you can do pretty much what you like. The fear is that Capello may become not a reproach to Eriksson but merely an echo – even if his decision is born of pragmatism rather than outright weakness – and if it is true, really how far have England progressed beyond the window dressing of discipline?

What is most dispiriting about the reaction to Terry's latest transgression is the widespread acceptance that he can hardly be criticised for falling beneath standards that have ceased to exist. Who then is entrusted to set a standard? Is this a team capable of growth, even redemption, a team susceptible to a new and superior example, or is it simply Sleaze-bucket United?

Conspicuously absent from much of the debate is the phenomenon first weighed by Aristotle, cause and effect.

If Terry's conduct has caused huge distraction, and at least some disaffection, among at least some members of the squad, how confident can Capello and the FA be about his likely demeanour under the ultimate pressure of a World Cup?

At the last World Cup finals David Beckham blubbered embarrassingly when announcing his decision to quit the captaincy at the end of another failed campaign. Terry also cried copiously when he missed a shoot-out penalty in the Champions League final in Moscow. But who is storing up the tears now?

One impeccably professional opinion yesterday, offered by a household name who has not been living in a time warp since he retired from playing at the highest levels of the game for club and country, was splendidly succinct.

He thought it bizarre that the FA had been largely passive for long over Terry's systematic abuse of the England captaincy — and also speculated on a rather different impact if the captain had just betrayed the close friendship of a team-mate who was rather more central to England's hopes than reserve full-back Wayne Bridge.

"Imagine," he said, "if Terry had attempted to have an affair with Mrs Wayne Rooney or Mrs Steven Gerrard? I don't really think the buzzword would be pragmatism, do you?"

No, it wouldn't. It would be full-scale civil war, with Capello having to weigh the potential contribution of a combative central defender with two world-class attackers. The point is hypothetical but the principle remains rock hard. Principle generally does. It offers a little light in the fog. It avoids the worst consequences of cause and effect. In the case of Terry it would say that whatever his value as a battling player he had failed to justify his position as captain.

Not the least bewildering of the drift of argument is the suggestion that it doesn't really matter who leads the team. The importance of the role can be exaggerated, certainly in comparison with that occupied by a cricket captain, but the value of a strong leader, on and off the field, was surely established for all time by the late Bobby Moore.

Moore never suggested he was an angel but he always handled himself with great style and a natural dignity, not least when he was the victim of a palpable set-up in a Bogota jewellery shop on the eve of the 1970 World Cup. What Moore inspired, from the moment he was appointed as the youngest captain of England, without a flicker of resentment from more senior players like Jimmy Greaves and Bobby Charlton, was both respect and trust.

It was a different age maybe, but did it have different requirements, different challenges to the nature and character of a man entrusted with special responsibility? If you believe that, worse still, if Capello believes it, it is hard to imagine a bleaker statement about English football and, indeed, English life.

By all means, take John Terry to South Africa. His value as a player is well established. But as a leader, as someone influential in the morale of a team vulnerable to all kinds of insecurities, and resentments, it only makes sense if you believe that indeed anything goes.

It seems that a lot of people do but then, of course, this will never make it right.

If Capello maintains the captaincy of John Terry he will no doubt receive considerable applause for taking the practical view. It will also be said by some that he has probably enhanced England's chances of winning the World Cup. So why not forget cause and effect and embrace the logic of the damned? For the best of reasons: because it is wrong.

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