English international football lost a combative and frequently commanding leader last night when John Terry brought his international career to an end by his own hand.
Having been twice stripped of the England captaincy, he decided the FA inquiry into the charge he racially abused Anton Ferdinand of Queen's Park Rangers was an act of disloyalty toward a zealous servant following the not guilty verdict he won in the courts.
Many – and probably not least his ferocious rival and brother of Anton, Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand –will see supreme irony in Terry's decision given his alleged affair with the partner of his former Chelsea team-mate Wayne Bridge effectively split the England team in two before the 2010 World Cup. But this is Terry, a man of deep contradictions and, perhaps above all, a singular tendency to follow his instincts – and then reflect later.
Last night's development had another irony in that a few hours earlier England manager Roy Hodgson, who insisted Terry was a key element in his team for the recent European Championships for strictly "football reasons", watched Rio Ferdinand perform superbly for United in their 2-1 victory over Liverpool at Anfield.
Hodgson's decision may have caused ripples at the Football Association offices where the decision to take away the captaincy from Terry because of his impending racism trial had provoked the resignation of Fabio Capello but it was certainly justified by the player's performances in the Ukraine. He produced a series of notably effective performances and at 31 suggested he had the legs and the ambition to play an important part in the campaign for World Cup qualification in Brazil in 2014.
But then who knew how many fresh controversies would explode around the head of a figure who, in many, many ways, had come to represent the celebrity culture of the England game? Terry, adored by the Chelsea following for his hugely committed style, had a track record which made his elevation to the England captaincy somewhat miraculous, but in his nine years in an England shirt his competitive passion could never be questioned.
Even so, the news of his retirement from international football will no doubt be greeted with considerable relief by those who believe the requirements of captaincy – and more recently, in the absence of the armband, powerful influence in the England dressing room – run a little deeper than a driving presence on the field.
Capello sacked Terry, then re-instated him when he believed his strength was not to be found in those who had assumed the leadership of the team.
That was one testament to the positive side of a walking, running enigma.
Much less uplifting was the sense that Terry failed to understand there was more to leading your country than putting on an impressive game face. No doubt he will be missed for the fury of his presence on the field but there is another strong feeling that off it there will be rather less damage for someone like Hodgson to control.