MARTIN SAMUEL: Time is RIGHT to give John Terry captaincy

13 March 2011 01:39

The captain matters. Captaincy matters. It has taken Fabio Capello more than three years to be convinced, but his increasing desire to return to John Terry, to weather the storm and the inevitable criticism, tells the story of a man who has finally come to accept that English football does dance to the beat of a different drummer.

Capello comes from a football culture that sees  captaincy largely as an honorary role. In Italy, the  armband is often handed to the player with the most experience, or caps, and his authority is simply assumed.

Here, it is different. A man can play 500 games and not be considered captaincy material; a teenager can emerge whose leadership potential may as well be inked on like a tattoo. 

Read Martin Samuel's EXCLUSIVE: Capello tells FA he wants Terry back asEngland captain

A point to prove: Terry has spent a year in the wilderness, but Capello believes he is again the man for the job

John Terry was that type. First encountered as a 20-year-old on Chelsea's trip to play Hapoel Tel Aviv in the UEFA Cup, he already had an aura that sets great captains apart. There were six  Chelsea players who were too unnerved by security issues to board the plane to Israel but that thought had clearly never occurred to Terry.

It was a matter of weeks before he captained Chelsea for the first time, against Charlton Athletic, two days before his 21st birthday.

There have been many controversies along the way, but no Chelsea manager has looked beyond Terry since Claudio Ranieri gave him the armband permanently in season 2003-04, following Marcel Desailly. Terry won back-to-back titles under Jose Mourinho, took Chelsea to the Champions League final with Avram Grant, was a mainstay under Luiz Felipe Scolari and Guus Hiddink and helped do the Double in Carlo Ancelotti's first season.

He was Steve McClaren's choice to succeed David Beckham in 2006 and Capello's, too. The Italian  conducted captaincy auditions, but endorsed McClaren's conclusion. Terry was the outstanding leader in the England squad; and then he lost his way.

The record shows that it was Terry's relationship with Wayne Bridge's ex-partner Vanessa Perroncel that proved the final straw. The couple have always denied an affair but Bridge was so hurt by Terry's involvement in his personal life that he stood down from the England squad. There was talk of a dressing-room rift, particularly with Bridge's colleagues at Manchester City, and increasingly Terry's position seemed untenable.

For Capello, though, it went deeper than that. When he finally sacked Terry, in a meeting that lasted a matter of minutes, he went on to explain that he had failed to set an example to young people and fans. It seemed Terry was being judged, not just on the fall-out with Bridge, but on a whole series of lurid headlines and stories. Capello felt his regular appearances on the front pages had become a distraction for the team.

Under no pressure from the Football Association - a handy precedent, that he will most certainly cite if there is official resistance to welcoming Terry back - Capello believed he had to act. He must be equally compelled now in considering making Terry captain again. And as the FA washed their hands of involvement in the demotion, they can hardly cry foul over the promotion.

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Also, the England team has floundered. Capello remains more convinced than ever that his squad needs more from its captain than simple seniority; and from the start the one man he believed had sufficient strength to excel in that role was Terry.

Rio Ferdinand is barely ever there. Sad but true. England have played 13 games since Terry surrendered the armband and Ferdinand, his replacement, has featured in four.

Steven Gerrard has taken the lion's share of captaincy duties but he will be missing in Wales and, long term, Capello has never seemed convinced that it helps his game. The best of Gerrard is what you see on the pitch.

Hard to believe from his strident, cavalier performances but he can also be a player beset by doubt. Successive managers have been surprised at Gerrard's confidence issues and Capello has never been entirely comfortable with the added pressure the captaincy places on him. He came third behind Terry and Ferdinand in the auditions. Famously, Capello once referred to him as timid. It was not his football that he thought lacked conviction, though.

The irony is that it is perhaps the moment many saw as Terry's nadir as an England player that may have convinced Capello he remained the man for the job. Terry's outspoken views, aired during the World Cup, were interpreted in some quarters as rebellion and an attempt by a disgruntled player to undermine the manager, even seize control.

Terry wanted a frank airing of grievances after a dismal performance against Algeria; Capello was having none of it. The widespread interpretation was of a failed coup and a humbled and chastened player, shot down by Capello, deserted by his team-mates. Not quite.

Capello's view, many months on, is that Terry's methods were misguided but his desire to confront the issue of England's poor form was further evidence of his leadership ability. He thinks Terry gives more as captain than any other player and English players want a captain who is up front in his dealings with the manager.

Injury jinxed: Rio Ferdinand

He has reached the conclusion that the captaincy means more in England than in other countries and it is true England get more from Terry when he is captain than when he is not. On that, Capello is right.

With hindsight, Terry's stance during the World Cup was not as outspoken as it appeared. Only in the buttoned-down world of football are players expected to mouth platitudes even when problems are plain.

And Terry did that bit at the World Cup, too. He said the players were behind Capello. He was careful not to challenge his authority directly. Yet he also spoke of going to the management team and asking if the players could unwind with a beer after the Algeria game.

'About eight of us sat talking,' he recalled. 'It was nice to get things off our chest and express how we felt.' Terry went further, and proposed raising issues with Capello at team meetings. 'If it upsets him, I am on the verge of saying, "So what, I'm here to win it for England",' he insisted.

And yes, pitted against the authoritarian regime of Capello, it may have sounded like a challenge. Yet Capello also appreciates that Terry was the player brave enough to step forward in a crisis. He may have gone about it the wrong way, but he tried to take responsibility.

Is Terry the best England captain now? Yes. Was he a year ago? No. At the time Capello stood him down, the firestorm around him was such it risked enveloping the entire squad. It is unhelpful if the captain is booed on to the pitch at Wembley, as could have happened, and if there was even a chance of division in the dressing room - and there was - Capello had to act.

It is different now. The England squad is evolving and the young intake need a leader. Wales are not a good team, but a fixture with England brings the best out of them and Capello expects a fierce contest in Cardiff; he needs a captain who leads from the front.

Obviously, some will recoil if the England manager endorses a player who is often depicted as representing the arrogant entitlement of modern football, but it could also be argued only the darkest deeds have punishments without end.

Terry did wrong and lost the captaincy of his country for a year, including the 2010 World Cup finals. He will be 33 by the time of the tournament in Brazil in 2014 and, considering the physical toll his style of defending has already taken on his body, that opportunity may never pass his way again. Capello, and others who believe in redemption, may feel he has served his time.

Body on the line: Terry's extraordinary tackle against Slovenia encapsulated his passion at the World Cup

In the end, managers are pragmatists. Ifthis England team had an equivalent personality to Roy Keane or Tony Adams, Terry could remain in exile. It has not. George Graham, the former Arsenal manager, said he would look out at the pitch when the battle was at its height and silently thank God that Adams was his captain.

Capello craves that consolation, too. Fast approaching his final year as England manager, what would be the point in picking anything less than his team and his captain? He should leave the job without regret, having done it his way.

There could be other benefits. As the pain of playing grows more intense, to reinvigorate Terry could give him the incentive to bite the bullet and play through the discomfort. Even at 30, he remains among the best defenders in Europe, as endorsed by no less an adversary than Jamie Carragher last week.

The biggest shock would be if Terry decided the captaincy was not worth the extra scrutiny it would bring and ruled himself out; but those who know him believe that would not happen.

Blue blood: Terry continues to lead Chelsea with distinctionand is one of Europe's best defender

There may be several more twists and turns. Remember, Capello is considering making Terry captain; the deed is not done yet. Even with the support of the FA, there is still the public and perhaps the players to convince and, undoubtedly, there will be criticism.

There is also potential for disaffection in the reactions of Ferdinand and Gerrard, who could not help but be disappointed. Both are out of the Wales game but, beyond that, Capello must have an awkward conversation, asking them to be bigger men. He could point out that he has been, by going back on his statement that Terry would not captain again while he was England's manager.

For his boldness, at least, he should be admired. Capello could have tried to slip this under the radar; given Terry the armband after a substitution mid-game against Denmark; he could have hidden behind the possible absence of Ferdinand and Gerrard in Cardiff. That is not his way.

Just as he did in dismissing Terry, if Capello goes through with this plan, his decision will have conviction. The biggest mistake would be to reject what was best for his team merely to prop up a throwaway comment.

This is a huge call and a controversial one, but re-appointing Terry remains the right thing to do. He has served his time on the periphery; and England can afford to miss his obvious qualities no longer.

 EXCLUSIVE: Capello U-turn as Italian tells FA he wants Terry back as England captainReds skipper Gerrard out for a month and will miss England clash with WalesChelsea star Lampard slapped with three-month driving ban for speedingMartin Samuel named Sports Writer of the Year at SJA awards

 Explore more:People: Jamie Carragher, John Terry, David Beckham, Fabio Capello, Tony Adams, Vanessa Perroncel, George Graham, Wayne Bridge, Martin Samuel, Roy Keane, Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard, Steve McClaren, Carlo Ancelotti Places: Cardiff, Italy, Denmark, Wales, Israel, Algeria, United Kingdom, Brazil, Europe Organisations: Football Association

Source: Daily_Mail