Monday, 14 March 2011

JT has served his time; now he must be the one to lead England in Cardiff.

Over a year has now passed since Fabio Capello famously stripped John Terry of his treasured England captaincy, in the wake of allegations that the Chelsea man had been engaged in an affair with the fiancé of then team mate Wayne Bridge. 

It proved to be a rare point in 2010 when the England manager was lauded by the national media. It was common sense, they said, for Terry to be removed as the leader of the national team. Rio Ferdinand was entrusted with the sacred armband instead and Steven Gerrard promoted to Vice Captain in Ferdinand's place. Done. Dusted. And off England went to South Africa, the only difference in most fans' minds being that it would be Rio kissing the golden grail on July 11th instead of JT.

But, sadly, it was not to be. No, not the whole England winning the competition thing (we all know how that ended). I mean Ferdinand being the one who lifted the trophy. As it transpired, the Manchester United centre half injured his knee in England's first training session at the Royal Bafokeng complex in Rustenburg and was forced to pull out of the tournament.

Unfortunately, it was to prove a common sight for both England and United fans as the serial tweeter continued to struggle for fitness as the new domestic season approached. It is a trend that has continued with Ferdinand playing a part in just 19 of The Red Devils' 43 competitive games so far this campaign (which, coupled with the fact he managed just 21 outings last term, led to Nemanja Vidić replacing him as United skipper). Whilst he has so far held on to the national team captaincy, he has been fit for only 2 of 6 England games since the World Cup.

With all this taken into account, plus the news today that Ferdinand won't be available for next week's crunch Euro 2012 qualifier against Wales, it is very hard for me personally to see how Ferdinand should hold on to the armband on a permanent basis.

I wish to make it clear at this point that this piece is no slight on Ferdinand whatsoever; when fit, he is in my opinion England's most talented centre half and it is a great shame that he wasn't able to play his part in South Africa. Would we have shipped 4 defensively woeful goals against Germany had Ferdinand been present in Bloemfontein? His emphatic reading of the game and excellent organisational skills suggest not.

No, my point here is that a captain should be the one person in the team that can always be called upon, the first name on the team sheet, the manager's go to guy. Obviously, it is hard for a manager to 'go to' a player when he is stuck at home with icepack on knee, laptop in hand, informing his fellow tweeps of how 'gutted' he is to be out of action. Sir Alex Ferguson realised that, and now Fabio Capello must too.

Especially that now, with Steven Gerrard (who in my opinion should be first choice captain without a shadow of a doubt anyway, but I'll save that for another blog) also unavailable, England fans are left scratching their heads at who will now take over the role. Based on last month's friendly in Denmark, during which the armband was passed around more times than a crack pipe at one of Charlie Sheen's get togethers, it would appear that Mr Capello has 3 players in mind: Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Gareth Barry.

Firstly, I found it laughable that Capello instructed Lampard to hand the armband to Cole after being substituted. Having dismissed Terry from the role for apparent extramarital relations, he then turns to a player who has had more negative relationship-related stories splashed around than Henry VIII. Again, no slight on Cole as a player, he is England's most capped full-back for a reason. But a captain? I personally don't see enough presence about him. Though I hear he commands a lot of respect in the dressing room... mostly when holding an air rifle.

Then there is Barry; former captain of Aston Villa and stand in skipper on more than one occasion for Manchester City. Though, again in my opinion, I have never seen why. Barry is a good player, whom many in this country (myself included) considered a top player before he was exposed so ruthlessly in South Africa against the high tempo, liquid, triangle passing of Ger... er, Algeria. As for leadership, the only time he seems to open his mouth on the pitch these days is when apologising to Carlos Tevez for yet another failed pass into feet.

So that leaves us with Lampard who, if Capello once again shows his cringe worthy stubborn side, will surely be the one who captains the side on March 26th. I would not have too many problems with that; Lampard is a consistent performer who leads by example, either by dictating the tempo of a game or coming up with crucial goals when it matters. A bit like Gerrard, but without the same drive and dynamism.

The problem is, in the fiery cauldron of the Millennium Stadium, we don't need a leader who will provide a calming influence in possession or a quiet word in the ear of a team mate; we need a leader who will relish in the fanatic atmosphere, display raw passion and agression, get the away fans roaring with a full-blooded challenge, holler red-faced at his players even when defending a throw-in parallel with the opponents six yard box.  We need John Terry.

Like a prisoner doing a 7-10 stretch, he has taken his punishment, served his time, kept his head down (minus one er, slight outburst in Rustenburg). He has watched his beloved armband flaunted around between team mates, something that will have caused him more pain than that shot against Slovenia would have done had it connected with his inexplicably extended head during England's final group game in the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

The time has come for Capello to go back on his insistence in February of last year that Terry "will never captain England again" while he was manager, a statement as short sighted and needlessly damning as the Italian announcing that David Beckham "has no future" with England. With the squad so thin on real leaders, Terry must be the man to command the troops.

Carlo Ancelotti recognised the importance to his side of having Terry as captain; it is time for Fabio Capello to rediscover that fact for what is a crucial game against our next-door neighbours.

It is time for JT to be paroled.