John Terry for England captain: who cares?
This week's Big Debate only demonstrates how the run-up to an England match is the most tedious period in sport.
‘Always he is the same. He is a player that is himself a leader. This is really important. He is the biggest personality in the dressing room.’ That was the sound of England boss Fabio Capello doing a U-turn.
John Terry is back as the England captain, having lost the armband a year ago following revelations that he’d had a fling with a team mate’s ex-girlfriend. It was a stupid decision to strip him of the captaincy, as Duleep Allirajah noted before the axe fell. ‘If Fabio Capello bows to media pressure and sacks John Terry, it would be a huge mistake. Firstly, it would be a sign of weakness; a sign that the media was picking the team rather than Capello. Secondly, it would send out a signal that team morale was damaged; that the players aren’t professional or mentally resilient enough to put personal animosities aside for the greater good of the team. If Capello doesn’t back his captain he’s effectively saying to the world that the England players are a bunch of wimps.’
The only thing that should matter to Capello is that ‘JT’ is a massive presence in England’s box. If he wants to be a massive presence in anybody else’s box, that’s between Mr Terry and Mrs Terry.
Twelve months down the line, Terry’s replacement, Rio Ferdinand, has had enough mysterious back complaints to qualify for incapacity benefit and, with Capello not wildly impressed with Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney or Frank Lampard’s claims to leadership, he has decided to forgive and forget.
This obsession with the England captaincy is bizarre, however. Capello once thought it all rather strange and, just in case you think that’s because he’s Italian and unfamiliar with English traditions, so does former England boss Graham Taylor. At the time of Terry’s sacking, Taylor told the BBC: ‘It is an honour to be captain of England but if we are saying we will miss John Terry as a captain more than we would miss him as a player then something is wrong.’ I suppose the obsession is no more bizarre than looking back and realising that Graham Taylor used to be the England manager, but there you go.
So what’s all about? The debate about who should be England captain is typical international-week material. England games must be a total pain in the posterior for the national press. Instead of having 20 different teams to talk about – and that’s just the Premier League – suddenly the entire weight of footballing scribedom has to spend a week speculating about one or two games with acres of football column space to be filled. And one of the games in this round of matches is a friendly against Ghana, so it doesn’t even matter except to the one or two players who will get a run out that will never play for England again.
At least the other game this time is a competitive match against Wales, so there is some mileage in talking about the opposition. We’ve actually heard of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey. Talking about the opposition is of little interest to England pundits or supporters when the opposition is Belarus or Montenegro.
In other words, the actual amount of real information to be conveyed before and after an international match is out of all proportion to the column inches that need to be filled. And, as a result, England games are bigger generators of bullshit than an Argentinian cattle ranch.
The coverage is also out of all proportion to the interest of most fans. As many people have noted, supporters by and large are far more interested in how their own clubs are faring than in England matches, particularly meaningless overpriced friendlies, like the game against Ghana, whose sole purpose is to help pay off the enormous mortgage on that white elephant called Wembley.
The only people who seem at all concerned about England are the supporters of small teams who are very unlikely to ever find themselves in the Premier League never mind bothering the fella that etches club names on to pieces of proper silverware. If you support Bristol Rovers, Crewe Alexandra or Walsall, supporting England is likely to be your only sniff at the big time. These fans are also the ones most obsessed with following England abroad and, therefore, the most likely to be found treating the local police station like a branch of Ibis during big international tournaments. (Actually, if you’ve ever stay at über-budget hotel chain, Formule 1, the only difference between your room and a police cell will be that you don’t have to pay for the police cell.)
Yet we can’t help but read this nonsense. We go vainly searching for our daily fix of football news and gossip and all we get is yet another England player being asked whether John Terry being made captain will divide the team, and the player giving the same tired, diplomatic answer: ‘No.’
Roll on Saturday week…
Rob Lyons is deputy editor of spiked.
Duleep Allirajah is away.