The Last Word: England shoot themselves in foot with stupid search for next Bobby Moore
Sunday 07 February 2010
John Terry was not sacked because Fabio Capello wishes to go to heaven. John Terry was sacked because Fabio Capello wishes to win the World Cup. If only that much could be remembered in this rush to acclaim the Italian as a great moral champion, cutting a great swathe through the corruptions of our debauched young men.
Of course, the supposedly decisive scenes of this gripping drama were always going to be presented in this fashion and Capello was always going to be cast as the no-nonsense Godfather bringing swift retribution to those who dared bring disgrace on the family. Capello folklore already has it that it took him "only 12 minutes" to let Terry know of his removal as national captain. Only? That's about 11 and a half minutes longer than Al Pacino ever took.
In reality, 12 minutes is a long time to deliver such a simple verdict. So it must be assumed Capello dismissed Terry in a compassionate style unrecognisable to Tony Soprano. He would have explained how this was essentially a business decision and that, sorry, the business they are in happens to be "a team game". There would have been no ethical lecture, no principled castigation for failing to live up to any responsibilities.
Neither should there have been. After all, how could he have possibly said to Terry: "For sleeping with Wayne Bridge's missus I'm stripping you of the captaincy – and giving it to that fine man of virtue who videoed the players' orgy in Ayia Napa."
It is vital that English football now guards itself from the temptation to go all ethical. If they don't, the ensuing muckraking will end up in row upon row of footballing graves. At the start of this saga, the Football Association were denounced for once again displaying their spinal deficiency and leaving the disciplining to the manager. Yet what they did was exactly right. The FA might just have peered down the lists of both the current and past England internationals and spotted a drink-driver here, a wife-beater there... and serial philanderers everywhere else. And thought: "Oh, blimey!"
Where would they draw the ethical line? Particularly when the ethics of the dressing room happen to be less a moral maze and more a moral vortex, which makes the honour among thieves seem blessed in its righteousness. Perhaps there should be a manual for confused FA officials to refer to in future. "It says here that drug bans are OK, but doing the dirty on your best mate is a no-no. Except if that mate is not a pro footballer."
"But Terry was the England captain," goes the cry. "So much more is expected from the England captain. He is a role model." To whom? To adults? I doubt it. There can't be anyone left in this country over 18 who genuinely admires professional footballers for their qualities as human beings. If there is, he or she needs urgent counselling.
Therefore the England captain must be a role model to the kids. But look around the bedrooms of the nation and who do you see adorning most walls? The captain of England, or the striker of England? Wayne Rooney who scores goals from 30 yards out, or John Terry who heads away balls 30 yards out? In truth, the captain is rarely the player most looked up to by that section of society which does all the looking up.
So what is the point of the national captain then? Capello has doubtless been considering that all week – and doubtless failed to come up with any benefits. My guess is Capello would have loved to have announced in his statement on Friday: "Not only am I stripping Terry of the captaincy, I'm stripping the team of the captaincy. Because we don't need one. At least not one with all this moral guff attached to it. It just gets in the way and the whole issue will continue to distract all the way up to and including South Africa."
Instead the players could draw straws to see who goes up for the flick of the coin. And when they win the final they could hold a mini-lottery to see who goes up to collect the trophy. (Just make sure all of Terry's numbers are above 49.)
It is English footballing convention which is threatening England's World Cup hopes as much as the errant Chelsea defender. The images of Bobby Moore holding aloft the Jules Rimet trophy have become so mythically iconic that it has long been regarded as a given that the team will require another Moore-type hero to inspire the boys. Over the years this Captain Fantastic character has morphed into an unimpeachable personality who carries with him the hopes, the dreams and, yes, the best moral traits of the nation. He succeeds the fair way, the hard-working way, the never-say-die way. He succeeds the England way...
It was crazy back then and it's even crazier now to have such expectations in young men who are almost encouraged, by unprepared-for wealth and fame, to do what they will with whatever and to whomever they please.
Coming from a country which does not place such ridiculous and essentially irrelevant demands on one player, Capello will see through this farce and understand its self-destructive dangers better than anyone. He will just be praying the captaincy outcry and subsequent celebration works to his advantage and clouds over what is the central topic in this debate.
It is this: can Terry and Wayne Bridge spend six weeks living in a team hotel together? Or will any tension and recrimination result in squad divisions? However brilliantly clever his supposed ruthlessness has been hailed, Capello has only gone part of the way to answering these questions.
It is such a tricky situation because he would not want to jettison an angry Bridge because of the unjust reaction it might create in some of his players. But he would not want to forsake Terry either. Both scenarios could be disastrous to England's chances. So who goes and what gives?
Perhaps neither will have to, and if Capello can lead England through this emotional minefield unscathed then he truly should be exclaimed as a champion. But be sure, morals won't even be considered. Capello's Three Lions will remain no Holy Trinity.
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