Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The England Captaincy

It really is quite bizarre, a nation that puts such a premium on the importance of captaincy, that spends more time discussing it and analysing it than anybody else finds itself so unable to appoint one properly.

Since the standing down of Alan Shearer, the England captaincy has been one large mess. Whilst David Beckham was undoubtedly a good player and a fine servant to England, his captaincy unfortunately co-incided with the era of Erikkson who simply allowed England to turn into a pals' club punctuated with barbeques attended by Elton John prior to everyone heading off to Germany and the coining of the phrase 'Wags'. This period of the untouchables and the ability for players such as Beckham and Owen to do almost as they wished will be the legacy of Beckham's tenure and not great moments such as his magnificent performance and last gasp goal against Greece. Too often instead were there tears and missed penalties, symptomatic of a possibly excellent team far too far immersed in its' own comfort zone.

McLaren whilst obviously out of his depth at International level, did try to shake England out of its' self inflicted malaise of mediocrity. Whilst dropping Beckham proved to be a step too far, his trying to kick start the team should be applauded and his choice of John Terry as captain was a sound one.

For all Terry's lack of judgement off the field, on the field he has never been anything but a fine leader and an exceptional captain. At the time of his appointment in 2006, Terry was also probably at the peak of his playing powers. Under Mourinho he had found a new level and an extra yard of pace which lifted him into the world class bracket for a couple of seasons. Since then, off field distractions and a lifestyle that one can only assume isn't entirely condusive to top level football have brought Terry's level of performance back down to earth. That being said Terry remains a consummate reader of the game and a fierce physical presence on the pitch with a knack of scoring goals. In Terry's defence also, much of his decline may also be down to the assortment of injuries he carries and endures - for all his faults a lack of bravery and commitment are not amongst them.

The problems with Beckham were of Sven's own doing by indulging him to such a huge degree. Capello's problems are also of his own doing by doing the opposite. Sacking Terry as captain was a pointless smack on the wrist. If he believed Terry's behaviour merited proper sanction then simply he should have stopped selecting him and allowed Wayne Bridge to have gone to the World Cup. Capello knew that dropping a first choice (and fit) centre back for a second rate left back stuck behind the very capable Ashley Cole would have been imprudent. However, feeling the need to satisfy the British tabloids he stripped JT of the captaincy and appointed Rio Ferdinand who has been about as fit in the last two years as Kerry Catona. The captaincy then passed to another person of dubious fitness in the shape of Steven Gerrard prompting the pass the parcel exercise during the last international match.

Capello now seemingly believes that Ferdinand will miss more matches than he will play. He also decided that the only other true candidate in Gerrard is either too risky fitness wise nowadays or isn't quite up to the job  - this blog would point out that they see Gerrard as an excellent captain however. Either way in dropping Terry and re-instating him, Capello has managed to upset Ferdinand, probably Gerrard and robbed England of their best captaincy candidate for the World Cup before arriving back at square one.

Far too much is made of the need for captains to set an example by the sanctimonious tabloids, the same ones that pay so handsomely for the stories and photos and even entrapment to dish up dirt on the same people for profit. The job of the captain is to set an example on the pitch and there it ends as long as the rest of their behaviour off the pitch remains within the boundaries of the law and does not impede their ability to play the game to the best of their ability. It is clear that Terry has crossed several lines but ultimately he is paid to play football and he has continued to do that and this season has done it quite well. Players such as Eric Cantona, Diego Maradona, Dennis Wise and Roy Keane have had their shares of problems off the pitch, Bryan Robson was an enormous drinker yet all of them would be held up as fine examples of inspirational captains on the pitch.

It also remains unclear how long the re-instated Terry will have the job for. Capello it seems is on borrowed time and having the long and fat contract that he now has he seems little to care. His treatment of Ferdinand in the past week or so has been shabby at best but again he seems not to care. Terry fast approaching the age of 31 and with a body wearied from battle - of various kinds - cannot be assured of his England place indefinitely and when the new coach is appointed, be it 'Arry or whomever else is flavour of the month, the debate over the England captaincy will no doubt rage again - No Nonsense.