Sam Wallace: Forget the scandal – what is best for the England team is all that matters
Capello is not a manager who will be spooked into dancing to someone else's agenda
Monday 01 February 2010
It will not be the sex that threatens John Terry's captaincy of the England team. The greatest threat to him is the scandal that is stomping along in its wake.
Not just any scandal, of course, but an absolute monster of greed and betrayal; a Premier League-sized, roof-raising, rip-snorting, gold-plated behemoth of a scandal. The clamour for Terry's sacking is growing. The reality, however, is a lot more complicated.
As with many modern scandals, it is not the act itself but the media firestorm that follows it that does for the protagonists. Alastair Campbell theorised, as Tony Blair's director of communications, that when a story reached a certain critical pitch and refused to go away then a resignation was required. If, for nothing else, to lance the boil and let everyone get on with their jobs.
As the pressure grows on Terry and every question in every Fabio Capello press conference relates to the scandal, and the World Cup draws closer, so the stakes are raised. Does Capello take the Campbell approach and decide that a sacrifice is needed so that everyone can move on? Because right now, Terrygate has pitched its tents on every front page and is refusing to budge. This is not the place for a debate on the attitudes of the British media towards a story of this nature. It is enough to say that Terry knew the territory when he got the job and while he was not obliged to be blameless in his life, he did have a responsibility not to drag the England team and its manager into these kind of episodes.
There are two important parts to the allegation that Terry had an affair with Vanessa Perroncel, the ex-fiancée of Terry's England team-mate and erstwhile friend Wayne Bridge and mother of Bridge's child. The first relates directly to Terry's treatment of Bridge and how that reflects on his character. The second is how Terry's actions change his relationship with his fellow England players.
It is fair to say that to carry on a relationship with a friend's ex, especially when that friend has been through a difficult separation from her, is callous and unthinking. It is unpleasant and humiliating for Bridge, especially in the unreconstructed world of the football dressing room – and Terry would know this. Bridge would justifiably not want anything more to do with Terry.
To do so says something about Terry's character, which relates to his standing among his England team-mates. There is a strong sense from some of the players that they are appalled at his behaviour, because unlike so many footballers' indiscretions this relates to a team-mate and a sense of betrayal. That in turn affects his capacity to be captain.
However, the notion that the England players cannot play in the same team as someone they do not like is ludicrous. Like any workplace, football clubs and national teams have their fair share of mistrust, dislike and petty jealousies. Just because players hug each other after goals, does not mean they are best mates. With his tendency to be flash and brash, Terry has never been a particularly popular England captain.
Footballers, however, tend towards the pragmatic in their outlook on life. Their relatively short careers are crammed so full of highs and lows that they have no other option. It is fair to surmise that the England players, like the rest of us, are secretly enjoying the revelations and the gossip, but it is hard to imagine any of them leading a coup against Terry come the Egypt game in March.
The question for Capello is whether he is prepared to take these delicate issues and pick them apart. Or whether he considers the size and scope of this very English scandal, and its omnipresence in the newspapers, and feels he must act according to a bigger picture. By sacking Terry he would, with one stroke, cut out the noise currently surrounding the England team as they approach the World Cup finals.
Terry has done some very foolish things in the last year. There has been the sense of a man desperate to milk the England captaincy for all it is worth financially. He used Manchester City's interest in him over the summer to leverage a stupendous new contract while publicly denying he was ever interested in leaving Chelsea (although he is not the first to do that).
He gives the appearance of a man who, despite his age, 29, and his seniority still leads a life on the edge, addicted to risk. He is not a footballer who seems to have learnt from the mistakes of his youth.
But to start sacking England captains on the basis of sexual indiscretions in their private lives is a dangerous business. It sets the bar rather high for his successor, and looking at the list of possible replacements you wonder which of them do not have a few skeletons in the cupboard.
Capello has to decide if the overlap between Terry's alleged relationship with Perroncel, the connection with Bridge and his position as a captain makes this a different matter altogether. If he believes that keeping him as captain will materially affect the team's performance on the pitch for the worse then he has to make a change. But I seriously doubt that to be the case.
As for the scandal itself, Capello is not a man afraid of the white heat of public opinion. He is not an inexperienced young manager who will be spooked into dancing to someone else's agenda. Part of me thinks he will return from Switzerland this week, tell everyone to calm down and announce that nothing is going to change.
Once he has made his mind up about something, Capello tends to deploy his most devastating weapon against the press: he misunderstands our questions and gives vague, almost incomprehensible answers. As a defence mechanism, it is virtually unplayable.
For all his flaws as a person, Terry has actually been a decent England captain on the pitch. He was unlucky in the failed Euro 2008 qualifying campaign, missing the crucial Russia and Croatia games because of a fragment floating in his knee.
When Capello decided to re-audition for the captaincy, Terry knuckled down and impressed his new manager. There have been many occasions when he has had injections to play in fairly innocuous games for England.
In terms of betrayal, the key person Terry has to answer to is his wife (although the people who gave him that Dad of the Year award are probably feeling pretty cheated right now). What goes on between Terry and his wife is, quite frankly, no one else's business.
No footballer should be immune from the consequences of his behaviour off the pitch because of his importance on it. Terry has done many daft things, some of them greedy and this latest alleged one just plain cruel. But this decision should be made according to what is best for the England team, not to silence the roar of the scandal.
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