According to one dressing-room observer, Fabio Capello's final words following England's match against Brazil in November, the last before a three-month international break, were along the lines of "keep playing for your clubs" and "keep your noses clean". If the latter phrase does not sound terribly authentic, given the manager's lack of idiomatic English, the message was clear. John Terry failed to heed it and is now the loser, in pride and probably pocket, from what has been a depressing affair in more than the sexual sense.
Far more importantly, Team England are the winners, as was always Capello's only concern. That much was evident from what his inner circle insisted was the carefully worded statement issued in his name on Friday: "The best for all of the England squad," was the key phrase. That squad have lost nothing. Terry, as he has demonstrated admirably in his last couple of Chelsea matches, and in optimistically talking of regaining the captaincy one day, is a battler who will continue to play his footballing heart out. If initially a little more subdued around the England training ground and dressing room, as befits a man so publicly humiliated, he will soon regain the natural bounce that has made him an undeniably successful leader of club and country, by word and deed. Those leadership qualities will also still be useful on inevitable occasions when the new captain, Rio Ferdinand, is absent and the armband is worn by the less voluble Steven Gerrard.
Having Ferdinand to the right of him in the back four will not be a problem; the possibility of Wayne Bridge lining up on his left may yet be and the whole question of their relationship requires Capello to be even more sure-footed than previously. The former friends and club-mates could be named in the same squad as early as three weeks today, ahead of the friendly against Egypt on 3 March.
When Ashley Cole was injured for the Brazil game, Bridge started ahead of Aston Villa's improving Stephen Warnock. Come the World Cup, it is by no means certain that a reserve left-back will be required, though Capello now risks accusations of political expediency if Bridge stays at home. At previous tournaments the squad members who tend never to play are the third goalkeeper and reserve full-backs. As long as Cole and Glen Johnson are 100 per cent fit there is a strong argument for taking more versatile defenders such as Joleon Lescott and Wes Brown (Owen Hargreaves' availability is increasingly unlikely) who can stand in. That would free up an extra place on the plane for one of the surfeit of midfielders or strikers with which England are blessed.
For now, the drip-drip of further revelation and allegation can continue until readers and editors become bored, but damage will be limited. "The media have won," an outraged Chelsea supporter proclaimed on one of the many lively and divided radio phone-ins this weekend. Capello is convinced that England have won, which is what he was hired at such expense to achieve.