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Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010

PREMIER REPORT

Terry, injuries concern for Capello


LONDON — What a mess.

Christopher Davies

England begins the countdown to the World Cup finals against Egypt next Wednesday with its captain injured, two first choice left-backs absent, the right-back hasn't played for two months and the most reliable defender is out of form.

The feel-good factor from qualifying for South Africa with a 100 percent record has gone. Coach Fabio Capello finds himself playing the role of agony uncle as the off-field behavior of his ex-captain John Terry impacts on the squad and his selections.

First the good news. Glen Johnson of Liverpool, sidelined since December because of a knee injury, is almost fit again.

The bad news is Capello's yet-to-be-officially-confirmed captain Rio Ferdinand will miss the friendly against Egypt because of his persistent back problem. Steven Gerrard will lead the side against the African champions and may even retain the armband.

Ferdinand has played only three times for Manchester United in the past four months and in just six of its 28 league games. A successful England would play seven matches in 30 days in South Africa, and at the moment there must be doubts whether Ferdinand's creaky back would stand up to such demands.

Terry's form has noticeably dipped since he became front-page news, the Chelsea defender blamed for three goals scored by Hull, Everton, and on Wednesday, Inter Milan in recent weeks.

Of all Terry's qualities, his consistency and lack of individual errors are high on the list, so there are inevitable questions about his off-field activities affecting his form.

But Capello's biggest problem, and it is one that will not be solved quickly, is Wayne Bridge's decision not to be chosen for England duty because his position in the squad had become "untenable and potentially divisive."

For anyone who has lived in a cave for the past month, Bridge's decision comes because Terry had a high-profile affair with his former best friend's ex-partner, Vanessa Perroncel.

With Ashley Cole's broken ankle likely to rule him out of the finals, Capello is now without his only two international-class left-backs.

Bridge, would not have taken the decision lightly, obviously could not bear the thought of being in an England squad with someone he feels has let him down so badly. Those who believe his actions smack of revenge against Terry do not know Bridge, who is a sensitive character and a likable person.

On the other hand, should he have let the action of two people who have let him down so badly affect his chances of playing in, perhaps even winning, a World Cup?

It is such a difficult, personal dilemma that only the person involved can really know how it feels when someone you thought was a great friend has an affair with the mother of your son.

The finger of blame for all this must be pointed at Terry, because had he not played away from home none of this would have happened. He has got off lightly, too, despite losing the England captaincy.

Chelsea gave him time off to go to Dubai where his wife, Toni, was on holiday and it seems as if the pair is still an item. The rumor mill suggests the money paid to Ms. Perroncel and other women for their silence came from an outside source.

Did Terry never, at any stage, stop to think that what he was doing was a bad idea with potentially devastating consequences?

Bridge's belief that his presence in the squad could be divisive is significant. All the players will have an opinion on this, who they believe is right and wrong, and I wonder if Bridge has had some feedback from the England camp.

It is impossible not to think that many of the players will believe Terry's actions were indefensible and they will find it difficult to see him in the same light. This will inevitably affect team spirit, so crucial in any squad and especially one that will be together for five weeks this summer.

Terry is likely to be booed by the Wembley crowd next Wednesday, which is a rare humiliation for an England player. He remains an idol with Chelsea followers but away supporters have been quick to show their feelings.

Capello is paid £6 million a year to make the right decisions but the Italian never dreamed he would be lumbered with this emotional chaos.

The football gods also decreed that two days after Bridge's announcement Manchester City plays Chelsea, though City manager Roberto Mancini may keep Bridge out of the firing line to avoid the inevitable media circus.

There would be no handshake between Bridge and Terry in the customary exchange between the teams before the game, and Mancini will probably decide it is unfair to put his player in a position where he would have to tackle or be tackled by Terry.

Adding to an intriguing game, is the pressure building on Mancini after the F.A. Cup knockout by Stoke, which meant the Blues have won two of their last eight games.

Few would be surprised to see Jose Mourinho installed at Eastlands for next season.

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


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