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The poisoned chalice that has become the England captaincy

The poisoned chalice that has become the England captaincy thumbnail

John Terry has been stripped of the England Captaincy… for the second time under Fabio Capello; and already the armchair pundits are having a field day. The rights and wrongs of that decision by the English FA have been covered by reams and reams of paper in the press. While it has come to many as a relief, others see it as a belated decision. People like the former England manager Terry Venables have condemned the decision as “illegal and ill-thought”.  The current England Manager Fabio Capello is now on the warpath with his pay masters because he does not agree with the FA’s decision. Not only does he disagree with the decision, but he made his feelings known via an Italian TV.  Capello may feel slighted by the FA, who did not even request his opinion on the matter. It is difficult to ask Capello for any input on the matter after the huge embarrassment he caused the FA in the first place.  (Photo: Abdulai Mansaray, author)

When Capello took the mantle of leading England to the much overdue glory, part of his CV read as a strict disciplinarian. During his time at Real Madrid, the English public got a glimpse of his disciplinarian forte by virtue of his relationship with David Beckham. England’s golden boy was made to accept that there was only one boss at Madrid. With such a pedigree, Capello was hailed as a man with a strong moral compass when he stripped John Terry for the alleged “Bridge gate affair”; after John Terry was accused of having it off with his team mate’s partner. Capello later made a massive u-turn to re-instate Terry and initially said that it was for one game only.  Such embarrassment to the FA could not be overemphasized.

If Capello wanted to make an issue with the manner in which the FA treated him in this matter, he should recall how he treated Rio Ferdinand about the England captaincy. Reports indicated that Ferdinand only knew about the change of the captaincy from Capello’s No 2 man Franco Baldini. Capello’s handling of the whole Terry affair phase one was enough for the FA to conclude that such matters should not be left in his hands in future. This was not only a climb down but a major PR disaster for the FA. The gods have not been helpful to Capello either. His decision to strip Ferdinand of the captaincy and reinstate Terry caused a lot of dissatisfaction and controversy in many quarters. This time round, Terry has been charged with racially aggravated public order offence against Anton Ferdinand, Rio Ferdinand’s younger brother.

It is interesting to note that Capello was all too happy to strip John Terry of the captaincy for allegedly playing too many away games with Wayne Bridge’s partner, but is now apoplectic with the FA for stripping Terry for an alleged racial discrimination charge. You wonder where his sense of priorities lies, and if this is the man to bring back the glory days, England has another long wait in store. By implication, the allegation of infidelity is far more serious than that of a charge of racism; especially when such a charge has taken a prosecution of some criminal pigmentation.

There is one thing missing here with Capello. It sounds as if Capello’s idea of an England captain is somebody who exchanges a pennant, tosses a coin, decides which direction the team will play and then shakes hands with his opposite number. I am sorry senor Capello, England is a brand in world football. The England captain is part of that worldwide brand that is expected to set standards and be the face of the England team. The role of the England captain is not just a 90 minute affair. I am sure that if Capello had any grasp of the wider importance of the role, he would not have been making his displeasure so public. Conservative MP Damian Collins said that “Terry has to accept that if you’re England captain you have a position in public life. He is in a very public and exposed position”. Now that he has openly appeared to take sides, you wonder what impression he may have made on the black players in his squad, come July this year.

There is a universal law that you are innocent until proven guilty. Pundits like Terry (no relation) Venables have taken issue with the decision to sack John Terry as illogical and “unlawful”.  At face value, sacking JT can be seen as an affirmation of his guilt. Such a view is only akin to people with a myopic understanding of the law; who by some misfortune of design would like to masquerade as legally minded. The FA or any other organisation cannot sack anyone from their duties on the grounds of an allegation alone. However, in any other walk of life, you can be temporarily relieved of your duty if you are involved in an investigation, or if you have a charge to defend. This is just my layman’s view.

Relieving someone of their duty is by no means an affirmation of someone’s guilt or innocence. The default position is that such an individual is innocent until proven guilty. In such circumstances, you are relieved of your duty so as to give you every possible opportunity to clear your name or prove your innocence. It is unfair to expect someone in such a position to perform their duties and at the same time engage in legal wranglings; except if you are JT, as he has proved time and time again that such issues have never impacted on his performance levels.  To conclude that JT’s losing the armband is unlawful is rather emotional and a cheap shot.

Capello told Italy’s state broadcaster RAI that he “absolutely” disagrees with the FA chairman David Bernstein’s decision; and that he “thought it was right that Terry should keep the captain’s armband”. You can clearly see here that Capello may be looking at the issue from the legally inclined “innocent until proven guilty” standpoint. The FA may have stripped JT of the captaincy for various reasons, ranging from corporate, diplomatic, employment code or even for the potential divisions his position would create; especially in the dressing room. If the FA had any misgivings about the latter, Capello’s public condemnation of the FA’s decision has put paid to those fears.

With a rainbow for a dressing room, Capello would have found it difficult to make such decisions without splitting opinions. As manager of such a team, he could have been more diplomatic and played his cards to his chest; because the FA had made a rather difficult decision for him. There is no suggestion here that Capello has any discriminatory tendencies but his stance may just give some people the excuse to see him along those lines.

Former Football Association chairman lord Triesman believes that the FA had little choice but to strip John Terry of the England captaincy.  Lord Triesman saw  “…the decision to be inevitable and I’m very pleased and a bit relieved (FA chairman) David Bernstein has taken that decision”. He added that “most people when faced with this kind of difficulty do conclude they should stand down and clear their name. That is a significant preoccupation”. Like Lord Triesman, there are many schools of thought who believed that Terry should not have waited for the FA to make such a decision for him. When faced with the controversy of the “Bridgegate” affair, many pundits expected JT to do some damage limitation exercise by resigning but he perseverd until he was sacked.

JT may be innocent or guilty for all we know, but he would have gone up the league table in many people’s estimation, if he had “resigned to clear his name”.  Lord Triesman believes that “in a more general sense, most people would say clearing my name is the most important obligation”; not if you are JT. Terry was represented in court to answer charges of a racially aggravated public order offence on 1st. February by his legal team.  When the case was adjourned to July 9, many conspiracy theorists saw this as a cop out by the system; to allow for JT to captain England through the European Championship.

The FA has also come for some criticism for the delay in dispensing justice; considering that the incident took place in October last year. Queens Park Rangers boss Mark Hughes is not happy for the delay in the trial because it will be “slap bang in the middle of pre-season”. Damian Collins, who is on the culture, media and sport select committee, does not “think we can wait until July and pretend that nothing has happened”. The FA has been also criticised by Former Conservative MP and Chelsea supporter David Mellor; that “a decision should and could have been taken about this at a time he was charged.

It was also seen as hypocritical in stripping JT of the captaincy but available for selection. In other words, Terry could represent but not lead his country. John Barnes, former Liverpool footballer and one of the vocal supporters of Luis Suarez in similar circumstances also expressed his view that “it’s a bit hypocritical that you shouldn’t captain your country, but you can still play for England”. Ex-FA chief executive Mark Palios sees the whole decision by the FA as a “balancing act between the rights of the individual and the wider game”.

 There are strong suggestions that the reason for the delay is because the players who may be called as witnesses could not give evidence before the end of the season in May; and June would not be convenient thanks to the European Championships. Either way the FA has not escaped the fangs of some of its usual critics. Capello is now saddled with the dilemma and the headache to appoint a new Captain. A lot of names have been bandied around, including Steven Gerard, Wayne Rooney and Joe Hart. But first, Capello will have the unenviable task of clearing his position with the FA on his public outburst. Some people may find this kind of controversy, just before the beginning of a major tournament as strange. But most of us have come to accept pre-tournament controversies as a pre-requisite in the England camp. It was the Bridgegate affair for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the Rebecca loos affair in 2002, the Gascoigne dentist chair of 1996, etc. Most of these seem to set the tone and give a clue to the team’s performance in these tournaments.

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