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Saturday, Feb. 6, 2010


Appointing Terry captain a mistake from the start

LONDON — Fabio Capello will soon announce whether John Terry, England captain and alleged adulterer, will retain the armband.

Christopher Davies

The Italian, a master tactician, is moving into new territory here and whatever his decision, it will split the country. If Capello thought his biggest pre-World Cup worries were injuries or loss of form, he was wrong.

Terry's alleged affair with Vanessa Peroncel, the ex-girlfriend of his former Chelsea teammate Wayne Bridge, who is also part of the England squad, has been front and back page news since last Saturday and has dominated phone-in shows.

The story, given more media coverage than accusations that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair lied over the war in Iraq, shows little sign of going away, indeed, there could be more to come.

The French model is being advised by public relations guru Max Clifford, who, unsurprisingly, is eager for Ms. Peroncel to tell her side of the story for which there is one offer of £250,000.

The soap opera is an acute embarrassment to the Foot ball Association, which has said that Capello alone will "make the best decision for England on footballing grounds."

Ideally, Terry should stand down to end the circus, but Capello will have to say something on the matter when he attends the Euro 2012 draw in Warsaw on Sunday.

It is ridiculous to argue that what Terry did was his private life and so should not affect his role as captain.

How will Capello and the F.A. feel if, as is likely, Terry is booed when England plays Egypt in a friendly on March 3?

It is one thing for an England player to be booed, but the national team's captain must have the respect of not only his teammates but the paying public.

The importance of a captain is vastly overrated, too.

Does Steven Gerrard play any differently for England because he is not captain?

The captain tosses the coin, does more media work than others, but that's about it. Terry would still be the same inspirational defender with or without armband.

I never wanted Terry to be confirmed as England captain by Capello in the first place. My choice, and that of most fans, those in the media and many who work for the F.A. was Rio Ferdinand, whom Capello made vice captain and therefore, presumably, the heir apparent if Terry is axed.

The latest Terry allegations do not surprise me because they are far from his first off-field controversy. It is unrealistic to expect anyone to be squeaky clean, without a single skeleton in the closet, but there is a limit to the charge sheet. Allegations they may be, but you can only be in the wrong place at the wrong time on so many occasions.

Terry was a car crash waiting to happen and the latest episode is a multiple vehicle pileup.

There is an arrogance among the rich and famous that makes them believe they can get away with anything. The reality is that the reverse is true.

Whereas, Joe (or Joan) Public can play away from home with anonymity, when you are the captain of England, or the greatest golfer on the planet, it is a different matter. If a top sportsman believes he can keep an affair secret, he probably believes the moon is made of green cheese.

Capello takes discipline so seriously that he went ballistic when an England player's mobile phone (banned while on international duty) went off during a meal. If that angers Capello, how will the staunch Catholic feel about Terry's latest alleged indiscretions, which reportedly include arranging an abortion for Ms. Perroncel?

Those who say footballers should not be role models (usually footballers or ex-footballers by the way) are missing the point.

We should all be role models in our own way, setting a good example for others. Top sportsmen will always be idols by nature of their job and with this stature, not to mention riches, comes a responsibility.

Terry and others earn astronomical sums through commercial deals, and sponsors tend to frown on those who acquire an image they believe could damage their product. Ask Tiger Woods.

Some claim that if Terry lifts the World Cup aloft in South Africa this summer everything will be forgotten. Only in the eyes of the blinkered class.

Ferdinand, Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney are not without "previous" but have learned by their mistakes, whereas, Terry has not so much stepped over the line in the sand as cleared it like an Olympic gold medalist.

* * * * *

ARSENAL CONTINUES to be a work in progress. This has been the case for five years and there seems a diminishing chance that Arsene Wenger's dream of winning the Premier League playing the beautiful game with minimum spending will become reality.

Manchester United ripped the Gunners apart last Sunday (the damning statistic was that United made 36 tackles to Arsenal's 18), and most expect Chelsea, which was superior in just about every department when it won 3-0 at the Emirates in November, to do the same again at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.

If Arsenal loses, it can wave goodbye to any lingering hopes of winning the title, because Chelsea would lead it by nine points. An Arsenal victory would mean only a three-point difference, so in some ways the match is a six-pointer, a must-win game for the Gunners, at the very least a not-lose.

Wenger's way is admirable but flawed. No English team passes the ball better than Arsenal, no manager has unearthed the gems Wenger has, but the Gunners' weakness is their goalkeeper, the lack of a midfield enforcer and, despite being the league's top scorers, a natural goal scorer like Wayne Rooney or Didier Drogba.

It is baffling that Wenger has not replaced Manuel Almunia, who is simply not a top class goalkeeper. Arsenal's midfield against United — Tomas Rosicky, Cesc Fabregas, Alex Song and Denilson — was too similar, lacking the bite Darren Fletcher gave United or the pace and width Nani provided.

Chelsea's quartet of Frank Lampard, Michael Ballack, plus two from Deco, Florent Malouda, Yuri Zhirkov or Joe Cole have the strength, skill, pace and experience to batter Wenger's young Gunners.

Inevitably, the center of attention will be John Terry, and the planned chants by Arsenal fans will give Capello and the F.A. a nasty taste of things to come.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for theLondon Daily Telegraph.

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