Saturday, February 04, 2012

And we thought the Dutch were self-destructive

What a mess. What an absolute, utter mess. John Terry has the England captain's armband unceremoniously taken off him for a second time in his career because he is considered too much of a liability to team unity.

For once, you can't fault the Football Association. What else could they do? Having seen Terry reinstated by England coach Fabio Capello (after he lost the armband previously for having an affair with teammate Wayne Bridge's girlfriend), the FA was then confronted with the prospect of the national captain heading for a major summer football tournament with a criminal trial for allegedly making a racist remark on the other side of it.

Terry's sacking as skipper only addresses one part of the problem. Reading striker Jason Roberts claims that the England dressing room at Euro 2012 “could be toxic” if Terry is even involved in the tournament, even as a member of the squad. And he claims his view is based on comments from England players he knows.

Chelsea are standing by Terry as club captain in the whole debacle, which began on October 23 when the defender is alleged to have called QPR's Anton Ferdinand a "f****** black c***" in a heated off-ball moment during their clubs' Premier League encounter. Chelsea's backing of Terry is understandable at such a critical stage of the domestic season, but one can wonder whether this is the start of the 31-year-old player's footballing career unravelling.

It shouldn't be forgotten that Terry has not been found guilty of any offence - either a football disciplinary charge (the alleged incident between Terry and Ferdinand was not recorded by the match referee, so no charges could be brought by the FA) and the criminal prosecution - built from, apparently, lip readers and YouTube footage - is clearly sub-judice.

But with the footballing world around Terry looking increasingly divisive - with black professionals even asking critical questions of Chelsea's black teammates for either backing him or not publicly criticising him - whatever really happened in that fleeting exchange between two players, in the heat of an intense Sunday afternoon London derby, is casting a bigger stain on the career of a player who's ability on the pitch has been habitually undermined by events off it.

© Twitter
The FA's announcement yesterday - which, apparently, Fabio Capello knew nothing about in advance - has led to the inevitable stream of invective and counter-invective online.

Joey Barton, the QPR skipper and a player with hardly a spotless reputation (two criminal convictions for violent behaviour - a six-month prison sentence for assault and a suspended sentence for actual bodily harm to on teammate Ousmane Dabo) spent much of yesterday evening ranting on Twitter about the case involving his club colleague Ferdinand. This included a particularly ugly spat with TalkSport's Adrian Durham and the Daily Mirror's Darren Lewis, in which Barton branded them "spineless maggots".

Much of Barton's stream of bile was legally borderline, but in one tweet he was spot on: "Once the issue went out of the FA's control, it was always going to get messy. They should have dealt with it instantly. Now its a farce." Indeed, had the affair been investigated by the FA back in October, and a referral to the police made instantly, there is a chance that the legal proceedings could have been commenced earlier.

As much as I support John Terry as captain of my football club, and as much as I fully support the "innocent until proven guilty" principle, I wonder whether the lawyers who pushed for Terry's trial to be held after Euro 2012 were thinking about anyone else's interests than their own. All the time Terry - still, arguably, the best candidate for England captain (sorry Rio, we don't need your expert long-ball punting skills...), drags this affair behind him, there will be a foul smell surrounding English football itself.

Great preparation for the national side in the run-up to a tournament that is meant to restore the nation's pride after the ignominious embarrassment of the South Africa. I expect the Dutch, with their talent for self-destruction, must be laughing in their clogs.

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