John Terry – A question of leadership

After a High Court injunction was overturned this week, allegations concerning John Terry’s private life spilled out into the public domain. Aside from the hysteria and scandal, the more interesting issue arises of whether Terry should captain England at this summer’s World Cup.

The FA’s press office staff are inundated at the moment and are finding themselves to be unusually busy for this time of year, considering that England have no matches to play. At present they are refusing to respond to the numerous requests for a statement on the matter – presumably carefully planning the best route forward from what is rapidly developing into a full-blown scandal. Already there have been calls for the Chelsea player to be stripped of the England captaincy, citing that he is not a suitable role model to wear the armband and lead out England in South Africa.

There is added significance in the context of the FA’s attempts to restore the image of the game in England. The Respect campaign has had moderate success in restoring respectful treatment of match officials and the stricter sanctions on unacceptable crowd behaviour – the bans imposed on a minority of Tottenham fans for their abuse of Sol Campbell being a prime example – are some of the measures taken to improve the image of the game. Similarly, without seeking to blow the story out of all proportions, England must be concerned over the implications on their bid to host the 2018 World Cup. With the bid having already encountered opposition and some tricky moments in its infancy, media scandal surrounding the England captain is less than desirable. As the allegations have yet to be proven, this scandal comes not so much as a problem for the FA, but for now it is merely a concern.

As well as the bad press from the scandal, perhaps the most significant aspect is the potential effect on the team’s unity, and ultimately performances, this summer. Since taking over, Fabio Capello has sought about harmonising a disparate group of talented individuals into a hard working and efficient unit, and the Italian will certainly not want bad relations within the camp to disrupt his good work thus far. Similarly, much of this good work has been the result of his total control over the squad and their preparations, so Don Fabio would not be pleased should the FA begin to assert any concerted pressure to remove Terry as captain. Whilst the latest revelations have cast doubt on Terry’s position as England captain and as a role model, on the pitch Terry is a born leader of men – in the mould of previous England captains Terry Butcher and Tony Adams – a courageous, lion-hearted centre back. To strip him of the captaincy would be reactionary and acting without perspective of the bigger picture.

The bigger picture is that Terry has been integral to the England side during Capello’s reign. With doubts persisting over the fitness of his central defensive partner Rio Ferdinand, England could lack key leadership experience. Those calling for his demotion appear to be harking back to a bygone era. The modern player is in the spotlight more than ever; with sophisticated statistical monitoring on the pitch being easily matched in terms of depth by close scrutiny of their lives off the pitch. Any alleged misdemeanour is no longer the preserve of idle chatter in pubs and on terraces, but is swiftly reported nationwide within minutes of it coming to light. Lest we forget that even World Cup winning captain and renowned gentleman Bobby Moore was accused of theft in Mexico when on duty with the national team – an allegation that was unsubstantiated – hinting at the role the media would play in coming years of covering players’ actions on and off the pitch.

Chelsea have moved quickly to back the player, assuring him and the media that he will retain the captaincy of his club side. The FA should act in similar speed. Numerous players through the years have had to work with strained relationships – such is the territory of the professional. Ironically, moving swiftly to remove Terry amidst concerns of providing good examples, the FA would be setting a poor example by making him a scapegoat in order to satiate the media desire for controversy and scandal. It seems as though the media circus surrounding the England team and the tendency for the side to self-destruct under this pressure has started early this World Cup year.

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