Like a wounded animal backed into a corner, Terry’s initial reaction was to bare his teeth. When much anticipated rumours of his private life were brought to the public’s attention over a month ago, Terry strode out on to the pitch with cock-sure defiance. He thundered home the winning goal against Burnley and celebrated in booming silence. His authority, seemingly, untainted. But since then the Chelsea skipper has endured a long and vicious public flogging. Stripped of the England captaincy in 12 minutes, chased across the world as he tried to save his marriage, shunned by Wayne Bridge in the ‘fake-shake’ at Stamford Bridge and derided for his antics by agitator-in-chief Craig Bellamy. That’s not to mention the on-going trial by tabloid and radio phone-in.
There is no doubt his form has subsided drastically – even if you take into account the extra scrutiny with which he has been watched. From Everton to Inter Milan and Manchester City, he has looked more awkward with every game. But what if it is not just short-term distraction that is wrecking his form? The pitch should be the best place to find focus from outside issues and the ideal setting to lance any demons. What if the humiliation is eroding the self-certainty that underpins and defines his game?
On the pitch Terry is a leader and robust defender. His authority as a leader relies on the respect of his teammates and deference of his opponents. His influence as a player relies on the self-certainty of his decision-making and forcefulness of his tackling. A crisis of confidence could undermine, not only his form, but also his game. Parallels can be drawn with another sporting star whose reputation has fallen to earth and landed firmly in the gutter. Tiger Woods’ country-club confession and public apology, after his private life became very public, left the question of his return to golf unanswered. But it also prompted the question of whether he will be the same golfer when he is back. Woods has pledged to reform his ways. This includes behaving more like a gentleman on the course and less like a ruthless title-obsessed champion. Will this change in demeanour and attitude erode the very elements that made him such a champion? Will he induce the same fear in opponents? Will he sink the same nerve-shredding putts with such conviction? Will he wear red on the final day? For now no-one knows.
And no-one knows how Terry will react in the long-term. With Rio Ferdinand struggling for fitness and form, England can ill-afford a timid Terry haunted by self-doubt. Terry’s leadership and authority remain integral to England’s chances in South Africa, even without the armband. Without his forceful tackling and decisive heading, the defender can appear a laden-foot, dare we say liability, of a centre-half. Terry, and England, must resolve this concern before it becomes a crisis. For this reason, is it is time for England fans to distinguish themselves from the rest of the gossip-led nation by showing their support to the players and team?