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

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...