If the Football Association hierarchy is honest with itself the best news it could hope for this morning is that John Terry releases a statement saying that, given the severity of the allegations against him, and the profile of this summer's Euro 2012 tournament, he is withdrawing from international football until the case is resolved in July.
The FA also knows there is precious little chance of Terry doing so. So given his trial will not take place until after Euro 2012, the association has to take the lead and tell the England captain he must sit this one out until his case, over alleged racially abusive comments to Anton Ferdinand, is resolved.
Yes, it is hard on a footballer who has 72 caps for his country and has a right to be considered innocent until proven otherwise. Yes, precedent will be thrown in the FA's face – not least, its current fragile position that it cannot deviate from its stance that the law must take its course first. Yes, the fact that it has switched its position from the friendly against Sweden in November, in which Terry played, will be cited.
By excluding Terry until the resolution of his case, the FA will ensure that, in some quarters, it will unleash upon itself an unholy storm of criticism. But it is the right choice for the England team and it is the right choice, given the severity of the allegation.
There is no presumption of guilt or innocence either way in such a decision, simply the acknowledgement that this summer England have to try to win a tournament and to give themselves the best chance of doing so they have to divest themselves of the baggage of the serious allegations against Terry.
Unlike the Crown Prosecution Service, the FA does not have to build a legal case against Terry, it can just make a decision based on what it feels is best for the team. You want to talk about precedent? Then look no further than the first time that Fabio Capello sacked Terry as captain of England in February 2010.
Then, the England manager did not sit down Terry and his former friend Wayne Bridge and weigh up the rights and wrongs of Terry's alleged affair with Bridge's ex-partner Vanessa Perroncel. He made a straightforward decision that the circus surrounding Terry, largely in the media it should be said, had grown to a fever pitch and it had to be defused.
This time it is not simply the media whose interest is acute. Compared to Bridgegate, the influence of Terry's fellow professionals this time has been felt much more profoundly. In Bridge's case, it was just the player himself who turned down a handshake. This time it was to be the whole Queen's Park Rangers team until the pre-match handshake was cancelled. Reading's Jason Roberts has described the potential effect of Terry on England's dressing room as "toxic" and he is right.
But it goes beyond the sporting imperative and the effect on England at Euro 2012, to the nature of the alleged offence, too. Any public figure facing similar investigations, not to mention a school teacher or a policeman, would have to withdraw from service until it was resolved. Why should professional football, not least a team that is in essence representative of England, be any different?
It is not possible to foresee what the outcome of the case will be but as it stands now Terry's position as England captain is unsustainable. This is not about the FA trying to make a decision that will either be vindicated or proved wrong in court in July. It is about making a decision that is right on the circumstances that the FA faces now and then at Euro 2012.
Should Terry be excluded from international duty and then acquitted he will rightly be given the platform to air his grievances. It will no doubt be uncomfortable for the FA but so be it. No-one said that leadership was easy.
This is a fraught, complex situation. There is no obvious option to take that will guarantee a smooth ride for the FA and Capello from start to finish. But that does not mean there is not a right option. If the FA excludes Terry from Euro 2012 and he is subsequently acquitted, then it will inevitably face criticism from some quarters that it denied a footballer one of the greatest moments of his career. But the FA does not have the luxury of hindsight. It has to make a decision on what it faces now.
This is the kind of tough decision that a governing body has to take. This is a pivotal moment for English football. The allegations are simply too serious to ignore and until now the FA will have prayed for the case to be resolved in law before the summer's tournament.
Unfortunately for the FA, that escape has passed it by. There is no exact precedent for the Terry case. That the FA allowed him to play in the friendly against Sweden only makes it more difficult. There is no easy path. The governing body cannot simply leave this one to its manager to decide. There is far too much at stake.
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- Anton Ferdinand
- Baggage And Luggage
- David Jones (Footballer)
- Fabio Capello
- Reading FC
- Wayne Bridge