James Lawton: Terry should be put to one side but England look beyond help
Capello has one last shot at redemption in the European Championship
English football has known its low points, heaven knows, but here is a challenge: trawl back through the worst of times and then say that the national game has ever been in less uplifting shape than it is going into the friendly game with world champions Spain at the weekend.
True, there have been some desperate breakdowns, humiliating ejections from the World Cup and the European Championship, the time when Wembley scoffed at the portly figure of Ferenc Puskas of Hungary and then watched him unfurl a new and brilliant game. And there were the befuddling match-fixing scandals of the Sixties.
Yet at the start of the second decade of the 21st century could there be a much more depressing picture of moral and creative torpor than the one embattled manager Fabio Capello is obliged to stare into right now?
His captain, John Terry, whom he was obliged to reappoint because of a gut-wrenching lack of viable alternatives, is stood down from the team while it is decided whether racism is to be added to a list of convictions dismaying in its depth and its squalor. At the same time his most talented player, Wayne Rooney, has to make way for possible replacements while he serves, failing a successful appeal, his suspension through the group stage of next summer's European Championship.
Capello has been the subject of withering criticism ever since a catastrophic World Cup campaign the summer before last but did any general go to war with less battle-worthy troops?
When we look forward to Saturday's game with Spain we have to consider the appalling possibility of not just embarrassing defeat but a spirit-sapping exposure of a broken football culture.
When Capello smiled wanly at the truth that he has run out of potential captains – the last one standing of his original quartet, Frank Lampard, can no longer come close to automatic selection – he probably found it impossible not to compare his situation with that of his Spanish counterpart, Vicente del Bosque.
It is not only that Del Bosque is inundated with exceptional talent, seven of them nominees for player of the year and another, Manchester City's David Silva, operating in England in a class pretty much of his own. If Del Bosque has class and experience, the cream of a generation of Spanish footballers who have outstripped the rest of the world, wherever he turns, he also has a roll call of captaincy material which underlines the poverty of Capello's choice.
What do you want in a captain? Maybe the ferocious will of a big, commanding goalkeeper who seemed to step straight from the cradle into the maelstrom of big-time football. Well, snap your finger and here comes Real Madrid's Iker Casillas.
Perhaps you fancy someone more along the lines of Bobby Moore – remember him, the lion and the beautifully polished spirit of the English game, who had the presence of mind to wipe his hands clean of sweat before receiving the World Cup from the Queen 45 years ago? Barcelona's Gerard Pique, the fastest-maturing defender in world football, would surely be no kind of risk.
You could toss up between two of the greatest midfield players football has ever seen, Andreas Iniesta or Xavi Hernandez – or watch Cesc Fabregas, the once precocious leader of Arsenal, grow into the job.
Xabi Alonso, whose departure from Anfield was so devastating to the sense of a team capable of taking control of a game, is another contender and if David Villa is more the individual shock troop, his passion and his commitment would surely get you by for a game or two.
Meanwhile, Capello feels compelled to tolerate the seamy melodrama of Terry's latest plight. Why not put him to one side and wait due process of Anton Ferdinand's apparently unbreakable belief that he was the victim of Terry's racial abuse?
Because, we have to believe, Terry is considered vital to the manager's last chance of redemption in English football, a decent showing in the European Championship. Really, this Terry who is obliged to fight now for his continuing credibility at Stamford Bridge and who must still nurse deep wounds from the disaster of the World Cup campaign and the quick, ruthless slaughter imposed by a young German team?
Capello insists that his decisions are based on the pragmatism of an old football man – and his belief that Terry should be considered innocent until proven guilty. It is an admirable principle but, unfortunately, it does little to dislodge the impression that he is in charge of a team that continues to suggest it is beyond long-term help.
Capello wants to look at "other players". He wants to see if the likes of Bolton's Gary Cahill and Manchester United's Phil Jones or Jack Rodwell and Phil Jagielka from Everton can come in a late and convincing rush. This is what he says, anyway.
What he thinks, when he contemplates the resources of Vicente del Bosque and considers the plight of John Terry and Wayne Rooney, is possibly another matter. Come next Saturday, this could be nightmarishly so.
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