Alternative title: John Terry is a Cancer.
Maybe you've seen the news--Fabio Capello, arguably the best manager England has had in quite awhile, is out.
Apologies if some of this old news to some of you. Some of it is rather old news. But the background is worth it.
Two years ago, in the lead up to England's rather unimpressive 2010 World Cup run, a story broke that totally shattered John Terry's already pretty sketchy reputation among people in the know. In late January, with rumors flying, and carefully worded reports being written, John Terry lost a legal battle (he was using the Human Rights Act to shield himself from harmful reporting, which is more ridiculous than it sounds) and the stories started flying: womanizing, drinking, gambling, and long-forgotten incidents came back to the fore.
(My favorite? "In 2001, Terry and three team-mates were fined two weeks’ wages in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, when the players were accused of drunkenly mocking American tourists at Heathrow." Think about that shit for a second. The immediate aftermath.) But pick your own--here's The Mirror's Top 10 Scandals.
Terry's whispered personal issues became a public AND team issue when it was revealed that he had slept with potential England teammate Wayne Bridge's ex-girlfriend. All reports called her Bridge's "ex-girlfriend", but it wasn't entirely clear that Wayne Bridge knew that until he found she had slept with John Terry (married father of two at the time).
On February 5th, 2010 there was some hope that the gulf between the two could be resolved when then (and until today, current) coach Fabio Capello stripped Terry of the captaincy he had given him two years previous. The captain title means a lot at the top levels of soccer (you tell by the heated editorials about the incident), and it was hoped that this punishment would be enough to bring back Wayne Bridge. That turned out to not be the case.
On February 25th, Wayne Bridge, at that point the only healthy, national quality left back the England side had planned to take to South Africa announced he would not play for England. And he made his reason quite clear: "I have thought long and hard about my position in the England football team in the light of the reporting and events over the last few weeks. It has always been an honour to play for England. However, after careful thought I believe my position in the squad is now untenable and potentially divisive. Sadly therefore, I feel for the sake of the team and in order to avoid what will be inevitable distractions, I have decided not to put myself forward for selection."
Later that week, Bridge made his point a bit more emphatically:
And so, England wandered to South Africa, with Ashley Cole at left back (coming off a broken ankle) and one could assume, not the best locker room. Had it not been for France's total implosion, the England situation might have been the most talked about during that World Cup. And let's not forget--England tied the USA on a horrible mistake from England's keeper, drew scoreless against Algeria, beat Slovenia in an unimpressive 1-0, only to get Germany in the next round to get absolutely thumped 4-1 (and it wasn't as close as that lopsided score suggests). In four games, England scored three goals, and gave up five.
Fast-forward to March, 2011. Fabio Capello, looking over his roster, decided that the best man for the Captaincy was still John Terry, and gave it back to him. Said Capello at the time, "Sometimes the leader can make mistakes - not only him but I, you, all the people. It is not a risk making Terry captain again. He understood the mistake and he learnt from his mistakes." [emphasis mine] And hey, let's be clear--we all make mistakes, sure. But Christ, John Terry has made enough mistakes for two or three of my lifetimes. I'll go to my grave comfortable that I never slept with a best friend's girlfriend, or mocked people in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 (or any other tragedy, for that matter!)
A lot of old-school English players popped off about how Terry should have never had to give up the armband in the first place, because, well, you know--his personal life is his personal life. As long as he's great on the pitch, who cares if is he driving people off the team with his philandering, his drunken gambling, and his mocking of 9/11 on the day of the event? He's good people, on the pitch! No way that other shit bleeds over on to the playing surface. Said former English Goalkeeper Peter Shilton, "I'm not condoning what John Terry's done on certain occasions but he hasn't broken any laws and I think maybe the manager should have kept continuity in the first place."
So as long as John Terry didn't break any laws, according to Peter Shilton, he was worthy of being the first representative of the English National Football team. That seems a little of a low bar to me, but what do I know?
Allegedly, it was a low enough bar for John Terry to trip over, however. In October of 2011, John Terry's massive favorites Chelsea were playing against (and losing to) the Queen's Park Rangers (QPR to fans and foes alike) and it sure does seem that a camera catches John Terry yelling at Anton Ferdinand, and maybe calling him a "f**king black c**t". That might be seen as racist, yeah? And there's a law in the books in England about that. Terry's defense as the time was [I paraphrase], "Yes, I yelled those words, but the context was, 'Oi, Anton, I never called you a fucking black c**t.'"
Terry denied it. Anton was silent on the matter, and continues to be. The case is in motion, slowly. But on February 3rd, Anton's brother, Rio Ferdinand, who has played with John Terry a lot whilst wearing the English kit, said this after hearing that the public hearing on the matter had been delayed (by Terry and his Chelsea club) until July 2012, "I feel insulted, woke up with a bad taste in my mouth, it's a god-damn joke!"
On the same day, the English Football Association took the totally reasonable move of removing the captain's armband from John Terry's arm. And hell broke lose all over again. "Innocent until proven guilty" as a phrase is a pretty simple one, but one that has been misused an awful lot in the wake of that decision.
Let's be clear here, England and various English writers--losing a Captain band is not convicting anyone of a crime. John Terry is not a man done wrong. He's a very good central defender whose literally dozens of actions that range from embarrassing to shocking should have been enough to remove the band (and they have been, before). He's been controversial in the past, and I haven't seen a lot of his black teammates flock to his defense. Hell, I don't need to insert race into it--go ahead and Google "Wayne Rooney defends John Terry" and see what you get.
But Fabio Capello did go to the mat for Terry. I suspect that was more about power than anything else, if I had to guess. Capello has, as detailed above, named Terry the captain of his team, stripped him of the title, reinstated and promised that Terry had "learned his lesson.' Imagine Capello's chagrin when his reinstated, rehabilitated captain was stripped of his armband without Capello's imprimatur? Capello spoke to Italian TV after he resigned, and he said this, "“I told [the chairman] that I don’t think someone can be punished until it becomes official...The court will decide. It’s going to be civil justice, not sports justice, to decide if John Terry committed that crime that he is accused of. And I thought it fair that John Terry keeps the captain’s armband.”
What John Terry has been on the pitch is a very, very good central defender. Maybe one of the greats, but not definitely. What he's definitely been off the pitch is an embarrassment, time and time again. The Captaincy of any national team is not some Civil Service job that once you get, you keep forever. England Football Association owes no one an apology. No one has denied John Terry his paycheck. No one has denied his spot on the English National Team, though based on the clubhouse cancer he might have become, no one could deny they would be outside their rights to do so.
Martin Rogers from Yahoo! Sports sums up the wrongheaded general opinion pretty well (just be clear, it is Rogers' opinion, too): "What [The English Football Association] should have done was to realize a legal process had to be respected and carried on with Terry as captain, a role for which he has the appropriate credentials as a player."
Appropriate Credentials! "Well, he's never been convicted of anything." Good Lord, England. Get your heads out of your you-know-whats. Whether or not these charges stick on John Terry, he already blew up your 2010 World Cup team, and is well on his way to blowing up your 2012 Euro Cup team.
Get out before he blows up your 2014 World Cup team. Or, you know, just keep making excuses for the most embarrassing man on your team, and keep explaining why he should be Captain. Though for me, drunkenly mocking Americans stuck at Heathrow on 9/11 would be reason enough for him to never wear the band. The captain's band is a privilege, not a right. John Terry thinks it is his by right, and too many folks in the English media are thinking the way John Terry thinks. If John Terry valued the captain's armband, he wouldn't be trying so hard to give it away.
Just let him give it away, England.