Graeme Le Saux: Leighton Baines can bridge the divide for Fabio Capello's England

27 February 2010 04:23
Bridge, the victim, and not John Terry, the alleged sinner, had taken responsibility for a situation not of his own making and for which he was not at fault.

Fabio Capello, the England manager, will have known such an ending was almost inevitable. One of the two players was always going to have to find the courage to make a decision, such was the path the Italian had chosen.

 Related ArticlesCapello: man in the middleSun City an unwelcome lureCapello refuses to discount Bridge entirelyChelsea 2 Manchester City 4Bellamy takes swipe at TerryBridge snubs TerryCapello's approach, his policy of not taking a direct role, was the only sensible one in his position. He is, doubtless, directing Franco Baldini, the general manager, as he talks to both players, but he remains in the background. Only when the scandal impinges on football matters, such as the issue of the England captaincy, has Capello become involved.

The Italian has not compromised his integrity by becoming embroiled in the nitty-gritty of the matter, avoiding the need to make public pronouncements on the issue. He has preserved his neutrality.

That, though, placed the emphasis on Bridge or Terry to decide how the story would conclude, and Bridge should be applauded for the way he has handled the matter. His decision is a brave one, regardless of claims he should have put his country ahead of his emotions. It takes guts to admit that he cannot face the prospect of sharing a dressing room with Terry. It takes nerve to walk away. His decision is a very human one.

When news of his alleged misdemeanours first broke, I fervently hoped Terry would be on the phone to Bridge, offering a sincere apology. That was the only hope of some form of reconciliation. We cannot be certain, but that it is Bridge who has taken decisive action suggests it is he, not Terry, who has taken responsibility.

After the incident between me and David Batty during a Champions League tie in Moscow while I was at Blackburn, I decided to apologise for what had happened, even though I did not believe I was solely to blame.

The situation was vastly different, of course, in that there was no third party involved and it was not a personal matter, but the principle is the same. Adults must take responsibility for their actions. After I apologised to David, there was no problem between us, as there was no apportioning of blame and we could continue to work together.

That it is Bridge who has acted will make the situation worse for the Chelsea captain in the long run, as the scandal simmers in the background until the summer. Combined with Ashley Cole's injury, whoever fills in for Bridge at left-back will be under unusual scrutiny.

Should Cole's stand-in make a mistake, the situation will resurface. I also worry that Bridge, the victim in all of this, might get some of the blame.

Some may say he lacks backbone for a decision he was forced to make, a decision which raises two equally fascinating issues.

Most pressing for Capello is who should replace Bridge as Cole's deputy for South Africa. Chelsea still expect Cole to return before the end of the season, but England must work on the assumption that he may not be match-fit when the tournament starts.

In his absence, Capello faces a choice between three specialist full-backs Stephen Warnock, Leighton Baines and Kieran Gibbs and three versatile squad players, in Gareth Barry, James Milner and Joleon Lescott.

Though Florent Malouda proved for Chelsea in Milan last week that a midfielder can fill in at full-back if he possesses the right characteristics, such a ploy carries its risks. Should the midfielder's mind return for one second, a mistake can be made, a danger slip by unnoticed. I would rather see Barry or Lescott at left-back than Milner, for all his versatility, but even that should be a last resort.

Gibbs is the most like-for-like replacement for Cole, but it is asking a lot of a 20 year-old who has spent much of the season injured to go straight into a World Cup squad. That leaves Warnock and Baines, both playing well for sides in good form, and now possessed of the ultimate incentive.

Both are fine full-backs, but it is Baines who has grown most in stature this season. He is a sprightly, confident character in attacking areas, and he has developed impressively under David Moyes.

Full-backs increasingly define the use of space in the modern game. It is a full-back who sets the pattern of play with the first pass of a move, and an offensively capable left-back is integral to Capello's system, in which Steven Gerrard is a winger in name only. For me, Baines is the brighter of the two prospects.

Perhaps more pressing for football in general, though, is the question this scandal raises over the place of morality in sport. There is a genuine dilemma facing the game, as highlighted by a succession of incidents since Terry's alleged infidelities became public knowledge.

Football clubs are run to make their players' lives as easy as possible, so that they can focus fully on their performance on a Saturday. Players are cosseted because it is felt that brings the best chance of success.

A moral compass does not sit easily with such a philosophy. A club's ethical code tends to be predicated on a player's value to their team. Paul Merson was afforded great sympathy for his personal troubles by Arsenal, but less significant players at other clubs have not been afforded such patience for similar problems.

Chelsea, too, have individually tailored their treatment of Terry and Cole for the unintentional damage both have done to the club's name. The former was granted unconditional support, while the latter was fined for carrying out his assignations on club time.

'Do what you like in your own time as long as you play well' seems to be football's message. Does such a policy, though, reinforce the sort of behaviour which has caused Capello such a headache? Do players need some moral guidance from their clubs?

Source: Telegraph