Robin Scott-Elliot: Decision to move trial date is at root of the problem – not Bernstein's judgement

Bernstein had asked FA board members for their opinions and knew he had its support

Fabio Capello departed Wembley yesterday evening believing that the Football Association had fatally undermined his authority as manager of the national team. Yet never in the governing body's recent, often troubled, history has it appeared to operate with such authority.

Since John Terry's legal representatives entered a not guilty plea last week to charges their client had racially abused Anton Ferdinand – and Chelsea pleaded successfully to push the trial beyond the season, and so beyond the European Championship, the FA has acted with a firmness of purpose and a decisive swiftness that has rarely been seen around Wembley.

Chairman David Bernstein sees himself as a leader by consensus, and he would not have acted without support from the other 13 board members, and senior figures within the FA. But it is the 68-year-old chartered accountant who has driven the issue, ensuring it has been tackled head on. He was not happy with Capello's public reaction in the Italian's ill-fated interview with RAI, although as befits Bernstein's approach it need not have been a defining moment. Like he did before reaching a decision on Terry, Bernstein had canvassed the opinions of the board and knew he had its support in the FA's stance.

The FA had expected – not without reason – that the trial would be played out before Capello and his squad departed to their Krakow base for Euro 2012. The outcome would have given an obvious direction to take as to the position and selection of the Italian's favourite captain. The issue had been discussed at the last board meeting prior to the hearing at Westminster magistrates' court and there were believed to have been questions raised then as to Terry's future, but there seemed no pressing need to act.

That changed the moment Judge Riddle decided he could not hear the case in March as he had hoped and set the date for 9 July, more than a week after the final of Euro 2012. Previously, the FA had supported Capello's stance that Terry was "innocent until proved guilty", but the actions of Terry's own club effectively meant the FA could not counter the possibility of him leading England to Poland and Ukraine.

It would have hung over the squad, been raised at every press conference the captain is obliged to attend – it would have impacted on preparations – and above that there was a reasonable case to be made, as would have occurred in the wider world and in many workplaces, for Terry being stood aside from such a high-profile position until the case was completed. The former champion jockey Kieren Fallon was suspended from all racing by the British Horseracing Authority while he awaited trial – a decision upheld in the High Court – and Fallon went on to be cleared.

It was shortly after Bernstein had been appointed to succeed Lord Triesman that Hugh Robertson, the Sports Minister, described football as the "worst governed sport in the country". The minister had a point, especially with the disastrous bid to host the 2018 World Cup finals still fresh in the mind. It was a barb that was aimed at the FA above all. But in the 12 months that have passed, Bernstein has quietly won friends and admirers, not least in government.

First came his lonely walk through the Hallestadion,in Zurich, to stand up against Sepp Blatter's unopposed re-election as president of Fifa in June, amid a swirl of corruption allegations. Bernstein and the FA took a proverbial global kicking that day but it was the right thing to do. That is a theme that defines the former chairman of Manchester City. "I – with others in prominent positions in the game – have to make sure we live up to the values of which we speak," said Bernstein late last year during the storm surrounding Blatter's ridiculous suggestion that on-field racism should be settled by a handshake.

As recommended by the Culture, Media and Sport committee inquiry into football governance, Bernstein has begun moves to reform the FA's clunky and dated structure. Two independent non-executive directors have recently joined the board, including Heather Rabbatts, a former governor of the BBC, who is the first woman to intrude on a white, male, middle-class, middle-aged-plus environment. She is believed to have seen Terry's position as untenable, given the circumstances.

Bernstein is no rousing orator – not the sort to gee up a dressing room like a Capello – but that is not his role. At the top of the FA he works with Alex Horne, the general secretary and another quietly effective operator, Adrian Bevington, the combative managing director of Club England, and Sir Trevor Brooking, the director of football development. It is that quartet who will determine Capello's replacement, and with no little authority.

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