The Andy Cole Column: In a dressing room it doesn't matter which player wears the armband

Fired Up!

The debate over John Terry's captaincy of England has snowballed into a minefield of moral, practical and sporting issues. I certainly don't envy Fabio Capello – it's far from easy to see what should be done next. Capello is a worldly man, and a hard one, and he'll want to make a decision that works best for English football – but even if you narrow the grounds on which the decision will be taken, putting England considerations above all else, the issues are still difficult ones.

But what occurs to me, as a professional who played for 12 clubs, and England, over a 20-year career, is that the captaincy issue is a red herring anyway. Some footballing people will say this is blasphemous, but captaincy in football is massively overrated, almost to the point of being irrelevant. In cricket, a captain makes frequent, crucial strategic decisions. He often has vital input in selecting the batting order, he decides who bowls and when, sets fielding positions and strategy.

Football captains are rarely anywhere near so important. In my whole career I can only cite Roy Keane as being, effectively, a boss on the pitch, dictating play tactically as well as emotionally, and even then Keano was often his master's voice, for Sir Alex Ferguson.

I hate to disappoint those who buy into the notion that every captain gives a Braveheart speech before a game, calling for his troops to die for him and the cause, but it's a myth.

In any given dressing room you can have 11 strong personalities, 11 captains, each capable in their role. Sure, some captains are shouters – Gary Neville – but so are many non-captains. Some captains are quieter and let their feet do the talking – Ryan Giggs. Others wouldn't dream of telling you how to play, just lead by example by working hard in training and giving their all on a pitch – David Beckham. Does captaincy really require a unique temperament? No.

I use Manchester United as an example because I know them best, but in recent memory Rio Ferdinand has been captain, so too Vidic, Evra, Van der Sar. It can be taken as an honour for the man with the armband but the captain's identity, on its own, is never going to win you a match.

To my mind, that's why stripping JT of the captaincy, or not, is cosmetic, quite frankly. Stripping him of the captaincy won't change Terry, for better or worse. The issue is whether he stays in the team at all; and if he's being judged as a football player that's an easy decision. He's in.

If we didn't let people who make serial errors in their private lives near a pitch, we'd never have had George Best, Maradona, Gazza and umpteen more.

I only partly accept the "role model" argument that expects players to be models of virtue. Top footballers are easy targets to be held responsible for the ills of the world. But does anyone seriously suggest that knife crime, drug running and gang violence are down to football? No. So what meaningful message with a tangible effect does censuring an unfaithful player have in the real world? Fewer kids cheating on their wives 20 years down the line? Do me a favour.

Obviously, JT can expect to suffer the consequences of his actions, and rightly so, but let's not kid anyone that dropping him will solve the world's ills. Equally, why impose one set of moral judgements on footballers, when it isn't the norm in any other workplace? In factories, shops, newspaper offices, wherever, most people's messy, complicated, error-strewn lives continue as normal in the wake of mistakes.

It doesn't excuse it, but we have to keep everything in perspective. I want to stress, emphatically, that I don't condone any indiscretion by Terry – and he's had a few over the years. He's upset people, and it would appear nobody has been hurt in this latest episode more than his own wife, which I can only guess he is ashamed of. None of us revel in our mistakes and JT will have cursed himself for his own behaviour.

Terry is rightly getting flak, and he's brought it on himself. But to argue that he should be stripped of the England captaincy, or the same role at Chelsea, or thrown out of the England camp altogether is too simplistic, and reactionary, and quite possibly pointless. The situation is far too complex to be handled with a PR gesture, even though that would placate the loudest critics.

Remember all the good work, too

Too rarely do we hear about the good work footballers do: loads of it. And I'm delighted that a charity golf day I'm hosting on 26 May at The Grove in Hertfordshire, with all proceeds to the Prince's Trust, will be supported by many players.

The fee for Andy Cole's column is donated to Alder Hey hospital and sickle cell anaemia research. He works on charitable projects with the sport and media team at law firm Thomas Eggar

Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape