John Terry’s decision to quit international football will be seen by cynics as an attempt to jump before being pushed. Indeed, the Football Association are hearing from him tomorrow as he begins his defence against accusations that he racially abused Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand.
These are allegations that he has already been cleared of in a court of law, although it is fair to say the judge’s decision was not exactly unequivocal. Terry admits using racist words, but denies they had a genuine racist meaning, instead arguing they were said sarcastically as though to mock the idea that he would use such language.
Either way, Luis Suarez was last year found guilty of pretty much exactly the same thing. He too admitted using racist words, but also argued that there was no racist meaning or intent behind his jibe towards Manchester United’s Patrice Evra.
He and Evra have now buried the hatchet, but if Suarez is to be found guilty on the basis that he used racist words, rather than there being any racial intent behind them, then it is reasonable to assume Terry may have faced a similar fate.
That seems to be underlined by the fact that Terry has tonight announced his retirement from England duty. He is not a man to give in lightly, and tends to defy anyone and anything. Presumably, therefore, the FA would have banned him from competing for his country if found guilty – as would be likely alone by the association’s record of winning the vast, vast majority of charges they pursue.
Whether Terry is guilty or not of the crime levelled at him – and it is important to stress that he denies the allegations and has been cleared – the more significant factor here is the damage his presence could cause to harmony in the England camp.
Most observers in the cold light of day do not think Terry is even remotely a racist. But many would argue with justification that he is divisive, the numerous unsavoury incidents he has been involved with and people he has alienated with his antics makes him a difficult presence to have around an England camp. Causing a dispute between himself and Ashley Cole, his Chelsea team mate, on one side, and Rio Ferdinand, Anton Ferdinand and their supporters on the other, is symptomatic of the problem. His removal from the England fray, however it was done, should at least remove a cloud that would hang over the squad for as long as he was involved.
And had this not happened, he probably would have been involved. Roy Hodgson has seemed determined to retain his presence as long as possible. And that is perhaps the most intriguing aspect of all of this. Terry’s decline in footballing terms alone has been noticeable, and his influence waning – it was just a matter of time given all the off field issues surrounding him that the Chelsea man made his exit from the international stage. But Hodgson stated that he hoped Terry was cleared – and now that he has lost the services of the Chelsea man raises an interesting question. Fabio Capello quit after feeling undermined by Terry’s captaincy being stripped from him by the FA. Now that Terry’s services are taken from him, how will Hodgson feel? That perhaps, is the most pertinent question arising from tonight’s surprising news.