Sunday, 20 March 2011

The England captaincy debate over John Terry is missing the point

So it's confirmed. John Terry is to return to the England captaincy after "one year of punishment" for his alleged indiscretions with the former partner of an international teammate.

Over the past week, as the media speculated that Fabio Capello might be about to do this, a lot of people have been coming out in support of the idea. Some said that Terry has paid his dues and duly noted that most other England footballers aren't exactly angels either. This is a fair point. Others have expressed frustration at the way the armband has been handed around almost randomly during Terry's captaincy hiatus, particularly in the friendly against Denmark last month, when the armband changed hands (or should that be 'arms'?) three times during the match. And then there are those who have put forward the argument that the armband doesn't matter and that this whole debate is pointless anyway. 

It is not. An England captaincy is still a position of great import - regardless of the sport. Andrew Strauss in cricket, Mike Tindall in rugby; these guys represent more than an on-pitch hollerer-in-chief. They are by a distance the most important ambassador in the squad; they embody the values of their sport. By having John Terry as England captain we send out a message that a guy who is entering the twilight of his career, who has already been part of several failed England sides of the past and who evidently endorses hounding referees as exactly the sort of man we want in charge of our national team. Gee, that's some progressive thinking.

But even more importantly - and the reason the Terry decision depresses me more than any other that Capello has made - is that we should be looking to the future now, especially after such an abject World Cup when we realised that the 'Golden Generation' was actually a damp squib. Reinstating Terry smacks of desperate short-termism. The fact that most of you are reading this paragraph and shouting "I don't need you tell me this!" just illustrates how blatantly obvious it is - England must do this. 

I think we can all agree that the best two teams at the World Cup were Spain and Germany - two countries that have clearly set out to nurture young players and help them grow. Spain are obviously far further into this development process and it has already borne fruit with two trophies in succession. Germany's time will come again soon and few people will be surprised.

Barring some sort of Greece-like, backs-to-the-wall, anti-football miracle England are not going to win the 2012 European Championships. We should just accept this now. Capello should be ordered to face up to this by the FA, rather than be allowed to make decisions for the now, decisions that are designed to protect his own position. After all, he won't be around for the World Cup in 2014. 

People will argue the very reasonable point that if Rio Ferdinand is too injury prone, who else but Terry? Sadly we are still a couple of years away from the answer to this question (the answer being Jack Wilshere, of course), but for the next two years I would give the armband to a player that conducts himself in the right way on the pitch (that rules out Wayne Rooney) and who will almost certainly still be in the first team for the duration of the next two years. This leaves us with one realistic option: Joe Hart. I'd give it to Hart - a steady, calm presence and one who looks set to play a big part in England's future. Make Hart captain from now until Euro 2012, involve our most crucial young players in the squad regardless of whether they will play or not (so Josh McEachran, Chris Smalling, Kyle Walker and the such like), and rather than be distraught by a quarter-final outclassing from a Germany or Spain, instead revel in watching our young charges grow in maturity. They might just become men a little ahead of schedule.

In England today, youth lasts longer than it did for our parents' generation. In the sixties and seventies, if you were in your early twenties, you were a 'man'. These days it seems manhood doesn't even begin until you're at least 25. But this slow maturation process is depressingly out of kilter with the mechanics of the human body. If we cannot consider players as 'men' until their mid-twenties, then we only get a few short years of them at their mature peak. We still mollycoddle Theo Walcott like a shy 16-year-old. He's 22 - one year older than Tony Adams was when he became Arsenal captain in 1988 - and should be capable of looking after himself now. Bobby Moore was England captain at 22.

Two more years of John Terry at the helm. Fabio really had better hope he delivers now.


Jude Ellery said...

Might as well give it to Hart, at least he's guaranteed to play every game (for the next ten years!).

Got a piece at FF that discusses how it's embarrassing how seriously we take the captaincy, guess you don't agree?

Narrow The Angle said...

Not really, no. I'd like to see captains become more important in football, not less. It's a shame if they're just coin tossers and armband wearers. They should be seen an ambassadors for their clubs on the pitch. If one of their teammates dives or goes mental at a referee, then they should get a dressing down from their captain. If they don't get a dressing down, then fans should criticise their captain.

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