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Aug 19, 2008

Terry choice shows Capello's conservatism

So, England's dreaming must continue with John Terry wearing the armband that signifies he, once again, is the captain of his national team.

He's not started speaking Italian in an English accent yet but Fabio Capello seems happy to take many of the same decisions as Steve McClaren.

Playing Wayne Rooney as a lone striker? Check. Playing Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard in midfield together? Check. Recalling David Beckham? Check. Showing faith in Emile Heskey? Check. The selection of Terry as on-pitch leader follows this familiar pattern.

For chest-beaters like Tony Adams, who like their captains like, er, Tony Adams, Terry may be the right choice for the passion he will bring to his team. For others he is a disappointing and conservative choice.

Why? Perhaps because, for all his achievement as captain of Chelsea, where he has led an all-star international cast through the most successful period in the club's history, his presence as a first-choice player, let alone captain, perhaps exposes the weakness of options open to Capello. Or is Capello showing a lack of imagination?

Make no mistake, Terry, despite that tear-drenched escapade in Moscow, is a true Chelsea hero. And not because of a moment of human fallibility as victory beckoned which usually elevates an Englishman into national deity. He has been a rock and a true leader as his team have dallied with true greatness.

For England, the story is somewhat different. Terry is yet to truly convince on the international stage. His best period as an England player came as the junior central defensive partner to Sol Campbell at Euro 2004. Terry was playing as a result of the absence of Rio Ferdinand, serving a ban for missing a drugs test. And perhaps the best central defensive performance at that championship came from Ledley King against France when Terry missed that game through injury.

Should players like Jonathan Woodgate and King have been able to build on their youthful promise, then Terry may not have been anything like first choice. Both Woodgate and King, when fit, possess the pace and class on the ball that Terry, for all his last-ditch heroics, does not. At international level, composure and ball-playing ability is important. Terry cannot match Ferdinand in this aspect. It is a shame for England that King and Woodgate, two players who have similar attributes to Ferdinand, have never been able to stay fit enough to cement a place. Terry does not even possess the pace that Sol Campbell, a similar player in terms of aerial power and forcefulness, could call on at his peak.

Following the World Cup in 2006, Terry was the choice of most to be McClaren's captain as Beckham stepped down. His competition for the role was not particularly strong; Steven Gerrard played poorly in Germany, as did Frank Lampard. Ferdinand still bore the stigma of that ban. England failed to qualify for Euro 2008 amid some shaky defensive displays, though Terry missed the last two matches through injury, an increasing concern over the last couple of seasons.

Terry and Ferdinand have been contemporaries since their days in youth football. Ferdinand, two years older, has taken longer to mature but is now the heir apparent at Manchester United, having marshalled a miserly defence that has usurped Terry's Blues as the premier force in England. Given the choice, Ferdinand playing at the top of his game is superior to Terry playing at the peak of his powers.

At United, granting the player extra responsibility has seen that maturity flourish yet further. In the absence of Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs, Ferdinand has been entrusted by Sir Alex Ferguson with the armband. His level of performance has increased in proportion to greater responsibility while Terry has always used to playing with an armband. In choosing Terry, Capello may have prevented himself from seeing the best of Ferdinand. The chance to see Terry play without the burden of captaincy and with the desire to prove himself has also now gone.

To use the example of Beckham, not being club captain does not preclude you from being inspirational in leading your country.

In the case of Steven Gerrard, could Capello have unlocked the enigma of the Liverpool skipper, still yet to shine for his country?

In going for Terry as captain, an England revolution that will shake up the status quo now looks some way away.

Capello's choices so far have been conservative and too reminiscent of the decisions made by unlamented and lampooned predecessors to convince that England are heading in a new and exciting direction.


  • Any thoughts on this article? Feel free to email John Brewin

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