James Lawton: Terry can no longer exploit in public the image he has betrayed in private

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The Independent Football

John Terry may feel a certain comfort in numbers when he contemplates the amount of high jinks, if not outright mayhem that has gone on in the private lives of so many great sportsmen. Indeed, he might even offer the self-serving thought that an illicit boudoir or two go hand in hand, hip to hip, with the arenas of the day job.

This, however, may do him little good when England manager Fabio Capello considers the hard question of whether some of Terry's purported recent conduct is at all conducive to the demands of the captaincy of his nation's football team at the World Cup. Capello is the most strenuous of disciplinarians, a fanatic for professional rigour in all matters. Claims of carrying on an affair with a team-mate's girlfriend is surely not Capello's idea of the self-control and example and heightened sense of camaraderie implicit in the assignment.

It is also true that Terry's situation sets him sharply apart from such fellow Lotharios as Tiger Woods and the late George Best.

The Tiger's libido continues to be a source of endless speculation and Best's fascination with the opposite sex, at all times, could scarcely have been more acute. He was once roundly abused by his Leeds United opponents in an FA Cup semi-final, played a few hours after he'd had been discovered in a hotel bedroom in the company of a young lady with whom he had only recently become very familiar. One ferocious tackler yelled at Best: "how can you call yourself a professional?" Best went his charmed, perilous way with a shrug. However, by his own hand and those of his small army of public relations advisers, Terry has put himself in a rather separate category.

His eagerness to financially exploit his role in football, and not least the England captaincy, has long been a source of concern in the upper echelons of the Football Association. One recent PR missive trumpeted his recent election as "Father of the Year". Georgie Boy never presented himself in such terms, nor did the Tiger, at least not without the heavy prompting of his mega sponsors.

This is where Terry cannot expect the soft landing for which advocates of privacy for the luminaries of the sporting life have always argued.

Marvin Miller, chief executive of the Major League Baseball players' association, made the classic such case back in the Eighties when the Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Bob Welch was unmasked as a heavy user of recreational drugs.

Miller scorned the claims of Welch's critics that the player had betrayed the youth of America. The union man declared: "It's just bullshit. The youth of America are shaped not at the ballpark but in their homes. Parents are copping out when they blame the example set by ball players. Ball players play ball. That's what they get paid to be, not paragons of society."

But then who could make such a defence of John Terry?

A superbly combative player, the roll call of his misjudgements off the field is now prodigious. The big problem though is that Terry does not ride the gauntlet of criticism which comes when his indiscretions are exposed, and say, as Best for one did, "You take the best, you must live the rest." No, Terry enthusiastically plays along with the campaign to make him more than a "ball player". He is presented not just as a leader of men but also an institution, a brand representing some of the nation's best qualities: devotion to duty, team spirit, a willingness to sacrifice himself for the good of the cause.

Such a profile is somewhat disfigured now. It is not a matter for crowing, or empty moralising. It is simply to say that if you set yourself up along certain lines, if you present a picture of yourself that is proved ultimately false, well, you have to pay the consequences.

You get your pay as a footballer of exceptional ability, you take the catcalls and the sneering from the terrace, and you get on with your job. What you cannot do, of course, is expect to be given the bonuses which may come with a false understanding of quite what you represent.

Whether or not John Terry has behaved shamefully, and let all his judges be sure about their credentials before they announce their verdicts, is not the most important question that came billowing out of the courtroom yesterday when a "super-injunction" against a newspaper allegedly armed with the damaging facts was lifted. It was whether he could ever again exploit the image which he had actively pursued in public – and betrayed privately.

Plainly, he cannot. Whatever his admiration for Terry's qualities on the field, it is hard to believe that Fabio Capello will not quickly reach the same conclusion. Of all the qualities of a natural born leader, trust is surely one of the most commanding.

For some considerable time at least it is one that is hard to imagine will ever be readily associated with John Terry. For so long he made it a commodity. Now, in his hands, it appears to have the value of a bad penny.

Now is the time for a fierce competitor to win on his own terms

Of all the pressures on Andy Murray in Melbourne tomorrow morning, the least of them will be to rival Roger Federer in the grace of his game or the charm of his nature.

Murray plays tennis with superb talent but he cannot toy with the galleries. He is what he is, a player of splendid commitment to his goals supported by a talent to produce some of the most sublime shots ever seen on the court.

So why is much of Britain (ie England) so ambivalent about the prospect of the nation's first male singles Grand Slam champion since the combative but also spiky Fred Perry?

It is because he rejects the need to play the other game. You ask him a straight question and he endeavours to provide an answer of some precision. Ask him one that is bizarrely irrelevant to what he is trying to achieve, or just downright stupid, and he tends to pull his hands over his face.

He can be gauche in his manner but rarely less than intelligent in his thinking.

In some ways he is closest, among great British sportsmen, to Sir Nick Faldo. There is the same obsessive need to succeed. Faldo once said, "I'm not sure the British people understand how hard it is to reach the top of world sport – they certainly don't understand how hard it is to stay there.

"What you have to do is put yourself in a tunnel and stay there until you believe you are where you want to be. Then, if you want to go on winning, you stay in the tunnel. I don't care what people think of me, even if they say I'm a miserable old bastard, as long as I feel I'm making some progress. It doesn't bother me if I have to hit a million golf balls, not if it brings me some benefit."

For Murray the need now is to make the breakthrough before all that time in the tunnel provokes a question or two at the back of his mind.

At Wimbledon last summer there was a small fear that he had analysed his performance perhaps a little too deeply. That may, though, have been the result of the relentless attention that came to him.

It is also true that it was possible to sense a certain lack of warmth in that attention. He engaged the crowd almost as an afterthought and, perhaps most important of all, he wasn't Tim Henman.

In Melbourne tomorrow the prospect may carry him beyond such a residue of cloying sentiment. He could just become a champion on his own terms, which have sometimes seemed a little bleak but have never spoken of less than a gut-deep need to win. The instinct here is that it is his time to do it. Probably in four sets.