Home > Football > Roll up, roll up, for the England captain circus!

Roll up, roll up, for the England captain circus!

On Friday (3rd February), the Football Association (FA) announced that Chelsea defender John Terry had been stripped of the England captaincy.

John Terry will no longer wear the captain's armband (This image is the property of Getty Images)

Terry stands accused of racially abusing Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand during a match on 23rd October last year and this is a matter that has crossed the footballing ring fence and become subject to criminal proceedings. The FA’s announcement in fact came on the back of a statement issued by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announcing that Terry’s trial date has been set for 9th July 2012, conveniently after the conclusion of this summer’s European Championships in Poland and Ukraine.

The issue of racism in football and the CPS’s decision to delay the trial for such a long period are matters for another time but from a football perspective, England are now left captain-less and a swift decision on Terry’s successor is needed, ideally before the friendly against the Netherlands on 29th February.

In many major footballing countries, for example Germany, Italy or Spain, the captaincy issue would not even have been deemed newsworthy. For example the latter two simply give the armband to the most-capped player. It is simply not a big deal. This is in stark contrast to the situation in England. The England captaincy is, and has long been, front page news and in truth, something of a circus. Never has this been truer than during the reign of John Terry.

Terry was first named captain of the Three Lions by Steve McClaren in August 2006 and was seen as the ideal man for the job. He had just captained Chelsea to back-to-back league titles, exhibiting all the hallmarks of a great captain along the way (vocal, motivating, giving his all for the cause etc). McClaren was convinced he had the right man in place stating ‘John has all the attributes an international captain needs – leadership, authority, courage, ability, tactical awareness and a total refusal to accept second-best,’ and the rest of the country agreed. It all started so well as Terry scored the first goal of the McClaren regime in a 4-0 thumping of Greece and stated that ‘It is the ultimate honour to be the captain of your country and I am very proud to be given this great opportunity.’ Terry and the England captaincy: a match made in heaven.

Not quite. England faltered badly during qualifying for Euro 2008 and eventually missed out on qualification for the tournament inAustria and Switzerland. McClaren however, played the role of fall guy and Terry remained captain under new manager Fabio Capello.

Terry once again showed that he embodies all the qualities of a great captain as England showed immediate signs of improvement and qualified for the 2010 World Cup with ease. However, in the run-up to the finals, Terry became embroiled in an off-field scandal as newspapers alleged that he had had an affair with the then wife of former Chelsea and England colleague Wayne Bridge. Sordid details of the affair appeared on the front and back pages of all major newspapers in England and the sporting media soon began to ask whether the Chelsea man was fit to captain the national team. This then turned, at least in some of the tabloids, to cries of ‘Strip Terry of the captaincy.’

In truth, Capello looked simply bemused by it all. The Italian never has, and probably never will, understand why the captaincy is such a big deal in England. He comes from a land where they prefer to focus on playing football and where the media supports the team. Perhaps this is why the Azzuri have won four World Cups? Nevertheless, Capello was forced to act and whether his hand was forced by the FA or not, he stripped Terry of the captaincy in February 2010. Rio Ferdinand was his replacement, although his injury problems meant that Liverpool’s Steven Gerrard wore the armband in South Africa.

The circus did not stop there. Oh no, it continued to roll along, racking up column inches as Rio Ferdinand was deemed too injury prone to carry the honour. In March 2011, England named its new captain, John Terry. It seemed a strange decision given the qualities of Steven Gerrard and the furore that had surrounded Terry a little over 12 months earlier, but it quickly became old news and England went about their business of booking a place on the plane to sunny Poland.

Fast forward to October 2011 and Terry was again in the papers for all the wrong reasons. During a heated match against Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road, the defender reportedly hurled racial abuse at Anton Ferdinand and the heat was on once again.

Terry is everything you could ever want in a captain on the field; tenacious, vocal, an excellent organiser and a great motivator, but his off-field conduct leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, to those who criticise football and its exponents, he is a perfect example: he earns a fortune, has an attitude problem, is arrogant and seems to feel he can do as he pleases. Those on the other side of the fence would claim he represents everything that is right with the game in so far as he is a fantastic rags to riches story; a true symbol of working class hope.

The latest ‘Terrygate’ scandal has caused the FA to say enough is enough and to go over Capello’s head in removing Terry as captain. The defender was informed by way of a phone call from FA Chairman David Bernstein, implying that it was a decision taken by the association and not the manager. This will actually be a relief to the Italian who will be glad the decision has been made for him. It should mean that his relationship with Terry will remain unaffected and so everyone can focus on the job at hand, namely European Championship glory.

Whether or not you think the FA is right to go over the manager’s head on this issue depends on whether or not you see the captaincy as important and as a purely footballing function. For many teams, this is the case. However, for England there are other issues at play. Former England captain Alan Shearer alluded to this on Football Focus when he spoke of the commercial commitments the FA and the captain have to fulfil. As England captain, you are the face of the team. You appear at the front on adverts for match tickets, merchandise and kit supplier commercials and so the image of the man with the armband has taken on a greater importance than is arguably necessary thanks to the FA’s obsession with corporate relations.

From this point of view, the FA has made the correct decision. Racism is an emotive issue and the FA has worked hard to stamp it out in the last 25 years. Regardless of recent press, the game in England has moved on a lot since John Barnes was pelted with bananas in a Merseyside derby in 1987. Although nobody is saying Terry is guilty at this point, it is a very serious charge and having a man who has a court date set fronting such publicity campaigns simply will not do. In fact, it would not be surprising if some of England’s sponsors have put pressure on the FA to take this action. The only question would be: if the FA is saying that its decision does not imply Terry’s guilt and that it is merely pending the outcome of the case, why was the decision not reached earlier?

If you see the captaincy as a footballing function, Terry should have stayed. He is the outstanding candidate and in truth, Capello (assuming the decision is his) may now struggle to replace him. Steven Gerrard would be the obvious choice but he has struggled with injury of late and is far from guaranteed to be in the starting eleven. It is of course impossible to guarantee that any player remains fit and in form but all things being well, only Joe Hart and Ashley Cole can be certain of starting berths. Many managers do not like goalkeeper captains and Cole is not exactly squeaky clean having been in the news for his own affairs and reportedly shooting a work experience boy at Chelsea’s training ground. Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney would be another, but he is suspended for the opening two games of Euro 2012 and has not exactly demonstrated a sound temperament down the years.

Capello is on the next train out of England after this summer’s tournament and so he could do worse than to look at the example set by his homeland: put an end to the circus by trivialising the captaincy and give it to the most experienced player.

Categories: Football
  1. Anonymous
    February 6, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    I voted Joe Hart. It might de-emphasize the captaincy for the better. Also, he’s guaranteed his place, is presentable etc and hasn’t shot anyone.

    Failing that, Becks.

  2. February 5, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    This article is spot on and addresses many points, the only thing I would say, and this is something touched on by the pundits on MOTD last night and that is that despite everything, John Terry’s form actually hasn’t been that great in the last year or so. So much so that his club have actively sought out a replacement, which is looking like it will be Gary Cahill, AVB seems to want to move towards having Cahill and Luiz as their defensive partnership in the future.

    Given this latest set of circumstances, whether you think the Captaincy is a circus or not, from a footballing point of view having Capello given the armband back to Terry, it seems now that he’s let the coach down. Now that comment does imply that personally i think he’s guilty, but what i meant is yet again the player has put himself in an awful situation where his character is being attacked, not just by our media but by the entire country, you’d of thought with the whole ‘Terrygate/Bridge’ incident the person would of learned from it.

    What does interest me at this stage is the process we are going through for this trial, Terry maintains his innocence and he is ‘innocent’ until proven guilty, but the prosecution have video evidence and i’d be interested to see how the prosecution breaks this evidence down to prove what he’s allegedly said to Anton Ferdinand.

    I also agreed wholeheartedly with Rio Ferdinand, his feelings in many ways echo what i’ve seen in the last 25 years. In his big interview with Dan Walker aired yesterday on football focus he said.
    “I thought we’d come along way since the time when John Barnes was getting bananas thrown at him onto the pitch, and i feel now like i’ve been fooled a little bit, i hope it will be stamped out and its just a group of small minded people that’s causing it to make it newsworthy at this time”

    This is pretty much how i feel about it, whilst you can make the excuse for poor education and different cultures in the Luis Suarez case, what can we say about our own ex-captain John Terry? He certainly has more of a benefit of seeing what racism can do to a person, even his own national team central defender Rio Ferdinand has championed the push towards stamping out racism, he clearly feels strongly about it.

    I have always thought the captains armband should be someone who is in form and one of the first names down on the team sheet, coupled with the fact they have plenty of experience and have the right attributes personally to lead the team out, the FA’s decision to have the captaincy as an ambassadorial role and to be involved with the commerical aspects of things is something that has to be taken into consideration. I voted for Steven Gerrard as the next Captain, he took over and done a great job when Ferdinand was injured and i think he’s the best man for the job given our current scenario. True Gerrard has been out injured but he’s now back playing for his club, i dont think Joe Hart or Ashley Cole would be a good pick either, because of the reasons you’ve already highlighted in your article.

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