by Rob Ward
John Terry is a person and player who is self-defined as a ‘leader of men’. It is an entirely false image sometimes perpetuated by commentators and pundits seeking a lazy ‘out’ but in reality nobody believes a word of it. Indeed the public’s perception of the boy from Barking contrasts completely with the representation that was once blanketed around this figure. Largely he is viewed as being thoroughly dislikeable, thoroughly untrustworthy, morally bankrupt, and selfish to the core. Last night we saw all of these failings emerge once again as a moment of madness saw him leave the field of battle and desert his troops – no doubt he refers to them as ‘his boys’ – forcing them to fight alone in the searing cauldron of the Camp Nou. Worse yet, as his team-mates doggedly played out the game of their lives Terry was attempting to defend a non-existent honour. His own.
As a nation that was once bolstered by Churchill and later – in a sporting context to sharply compare here – Moore we know what qualities are required to be considered a true leader. And constantly adjusting your armband, pointing a lot, and having a wanton disregard for the safety of your head equates to very little in the greater scheme of things. What about character? Of that Terry comes up all too short.
The media will no doubt judge his absence for the Champion’s League final as a significant loss and perhaps as a player and for his organisational skills they might be correct. But as a captain, who is to say that his absence will not be greatly missed? This potential blessing can equally be said of England this summer.
It’s not often the FA make universally popular decisions. Football’s tribal nature ensures that one faction of fickle fans will always take umbrage whenever the game’s governing body rules against them: witness the furore over the Suarez/Evra row. But the FA is making a habit of taking sensible decisions over controversial issues lately and anyone observing objectively has to agree that stripping John Terry of the England captaincy was the right thing to do.
Regardless of his abilities as a footballer (arguably overrated and certainly on the wane), he is not fit to lead his country into a prestigious international tournament. Over recent years Terry has been dogged by off-field controversies which have seriously undermined his claims to the armband. His well publicised affair with Wayne Bridge’s ex-girlfriend threatened squad harmony, his clumsy attempts to cash in on his England captaincy stank of opportunism and avarice and exceeding all this he faces a criminal trial for allegedly racially abusing QPR’s Anton Ferdinand.
Regarding the latter example how could a man accused of such a crime lead out a multi-racial England team in Polkraine? How would the squad’s black and mixed-race players feel? Would Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck and Glen Johnson want to play under a man who faces a trial for calling a fellow player a ‘black c***’ just hours after the end of the tournament. And what about Rio Ferdinand? Should the Manchester United player’s injury woes recede he’d be certain to be on the plane – and potentially playing alongside a captain due to face his brother across the courtroom.
Such a situation might have been intolerable for the players. It could also have been potentially embarrassing for English football’s governing body. What would happen if any of Englands players faced racist abuse from the terraces? This is not unlikely in Poland or Ukraine – but how could the FA credibly complain about such issues if the figurehead of their team was accused of similar crimes? How could the captain comment on such issues in press conferences?
And in the unlikely event that England won Euro 2012 it would have been John Terry collecting the trophy from Sepp Blatter. What an image that would present to the world – a FIFA head-honcho who has repeatedly dropped himself in hot water over his insensitive sexist, homophobic and racist outburst presenting one of the most prestigious trophies in world football to a man facing police action for similar acts.
Of course, John Terry might yet be entirely innocent. But talk of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is an ideal which does not really exist. If a public servant were accused of racism he would almost certainly be suspended from his position pending the review or hearing into his guilt. Why should the England captaincy be any different? Besides which, the FA were not condemning Terry through this action – merely suspending judgment.
The FA needed to take action to prevent English football potentially becoming a hypocritical laughing stock. That’s exactly what they’ve done. Pre-empting the worst case scenario is in the best interests of all involved – should Terry be found guilty the reputational damage to England would be impossible to rectify retrospectively.
The same cannot be said of the man himself however whose reputation is already damaged beyond repair.