Fabio Capello speaks to Steven Gerrard with John Terry in the backgroundIf Fabio Capello's public criticism of the FA's decision to strip John Terry of the England captaincy and statement that he still considers him team leader is an attempt to motivate his team ahead of the do-or-die European Championships, it is a very odd one.
Either he's trying to pressurise the FA into reinstating Terry (no chance), seeking to wind his other senior players up, or trying to get sacked so he can have the summer off before his contract expires.
ED actually expected Capello to support Terry through his latest sideshow distraction. Well, privately at least.
First up, Capello is from Italy. Note ED says 'from Italy' and not 'Italian'. This is because there is and should be no implication that Italians are racist, per se, or any more or less tolerant of racist attitudes than, say, the Swedish.
But, in Italy, there is a different attitude to dealing with the nonsense that people spout in the heat of the moment; the things people say to get a rise or after taking the bait of an affront. Whether in football or life itself, it is considered far more offensive in Italy to blaspheme or curse an adversary's mother than it is to refer to ethnic origin or sexual preference. And even that is largely shrugged off, so long as no one gets knifed. Different priorities and all that.
More telling than Capello's public support of the Lega Nord party — which, if you're unfamiliar with Italy's politics, is more UKIP than Conservatives — is his relationship with a man of a more moderate political persuasion, a man who has been the target of more mud-slinging than a bathing hippopotamus, with plenty of it sticking to boot: Italy's former Premier, Capello's long-term friend and employer, the effervescent old stud that is Silvio Berlusconi.
ED is going to draw a direct if typically convoluted analogy on how similar situations in politics panned out in Italy — with Berlusconi — and Britain, with former Energy Secretary Chris Huhne. Stop yawning at the back there.
The rake that is Papa Silvio (So young! So handsome!) has been accused of corruption, nepotism, despotism and whoring - enough perhaps to make even Caligula blush.
Capello is a long-time pal of Berlusconi, the man who gave him his first real job after football before easing him into Milan's coaching structure. They have retained strong links since and, given how he failed to resist most temptations sent his way, Berlusconi did a pretty good job of resisting the temptation to end the media circus by doing the decent thing and quitting, when even his staunchest supporters begged him to — it took a parliamentary revolt (over his handling of the Eurozone crisis, not his legal troubles) to finally tease his resignation last year.
Indeed, Papa Silvio loitered with intent for at least a decade after it first became apparent he was as shady as a caramel latte, with some of his antics relevant to his job and some not. You see, Papa Silvio felt safe in the knowledge the Italian Left was so fractured that he could pretty much do anything he wanted until a financial crisis forced his hand.
Given his mate's precedent, Capello clearly cannot understand how someone can be forced out of a role before they have had charges against them proven or otherwise; but Capello, like many of those commenting on our stories in support of Terry, is completely missing the point.
Terry is not being sent to prison before trial; he is not being kicked out of the England team before trial; he is not being suspended from all play by the FA pending the conclusion of a thorough hearing.
He is simply being told to step aside from a representative role that makes him the focus of all media engagements with players, the face and voice of the team on and off the pitch — from referees, to the press and to brand partners.
And Terry should not have waited to be told. The England captain is the public image of a team that, in essence, is supposed to symbolise the highest echelon of English football; to represent the nation, the fans and the FA's interests.
The FA's brand partners, of which there are many, cannot have their figurehead in the midst of an unsavoury court case, a case which — by its very nature — is in direct contravention of the values they espouse.
Subsequently — whether guilty or not — the FA cannot allow its flagship player to drag a carnival of doubt and speculation up to and through the European Championships.
The FA cannot afford to have Terry in such a prominent role because — as with all PR and marketing matters — it has to account for the majority view of its target audience: the public, England fans and England's casual backers.
Terry has the backing of Capello, a lot of Chelsea fans, a gaggle of free-speech advocates and (gulp) some racists. Racists like the small number who booed Rio Ferdinand for happening to be the brother of the man Terry is accused of allegedly happening to abuse, a man who didn't even make the complaint (a member of the public did). Go on, justify yourselves without sounding like a fool.
But that's another matter entirely — the point is that those who back Terry are in the minority, the overwhelming minority actually.
A survey on our own website — a survey you should still be able to vote on via our homepage — has a whopping 64% of readers believing Terry should not even go to the Euros, let alone be selected as captain. Not even in the squad, let alone the figurehead of the team.
At the time of writing that poll had nearly 34,000 respondents — statistically viable, with a greater number of respondents than any pre-election survey and without the gerrymandering of focus groups and loading of questions (it was a simple 'should or shoudn't he). The FA, sponsors, associates and investors do not care what ED thinks, what your mates in the pub think, what you think, even what Capello thinks — they care about what the majority of people think. It is not relevant to Chelsea, because their fans overwhelmingly support their idol. But to England it is highly important, because the fans do not back Terry on this.
Much like a place on the front benches of Parliament, the England captaincy is a symbolic role, a representative role and thus subject to the weight of public opinion. ED is not naive enough to think, say, that Huhne was responsible for all the coalition Government's environmental policy: a team of policy wonks, scientists and economists formulate strategy, he just sells and manages it. Thus, when he gets in a spot of bother, he is in no position to act as the mouthpiece of Government.
Similarly, whether captain or not, on the pitch Terry will still be able to yell at people, take kicks to the head, and get caught for a lack of pace to his heart's content — just like ousted minister David Laws was no doubt able to help shape Government strategy on deficit reduction, just as Huhne will be able to help Britain reduce its carbon footprint.
On the same day that Terry was demoted, Lib Dem cad Huhne did the decent thing and resigned from his role as Energy Secretary after finding out he would face charges for a matter involving a bitter ex and a fast car. A matter, by its very nature, that could easily have involved an England footballer. Terry should have done the same; it says a lot about the pig-headedness of the man that he didn't.
Lord Triesman got it right when he drew an analogy between Terry and Huhne — on the day, ED's similarly emaciated co-workers privately made the same analogy, stretching it to link the dastardly duo's reputations as excellent employees but dreadful men.
Yes, it is a political decision; a corporate decision even. In England, with public opinion against him and an unsavoury court case that hangs heavy on the shoulders, Terry cannot be captain.
Capello made his comments to Italian television — but Capello must be reminded that he is not in Italy, where the Chelsea skipper would probably have escaped criticism let alone police action, where it is acceptable for the nation's political leader to reek of a stench far stronger than Terry's, and where a level of insularity pervades that allows public leaders to not give a tinker's cuss about public opinion. A similar culture has existed, and is currently unravelling, in UK high finance.
So why on earth did Capello say this? Does he want the FA to censure him, to force its hand before he has to take a squad of arrogant playboys to Eastern Europe knowing they will self-destruct on and off the pitch, to further stain what had been a legacy as one of the all-time great coaches?
Or is it a bizarre call to arms, the laying of a gauntlet to players who will compete for the captaincy but will know they are second-best to Terry in Capello's eyes?
A motivational tool, perhaps, to spark a response from the willing but seemingly indifferent Steven Gerrard, to spark him into performing to something close to his maximum for England?
If it is a mind-game, it's a highly risky one. ED wants Scott Parker to be the new England captain — he is untainted, honest, a leader of men, clean as a whistle and a throwback to the days when England actually won stuff (haircut and all). How would he respond to this remarkable lack of confidence? (Modestly, ED suspects).
Should Capello's latest gambit pay off, ED will bow down to a man with a quite remarkable track record prior to his disastrous 2010 World Cup.
But if it fails, one has to ask 'what the hell was he thinking?', begging the question of what will come next for England — because if Harry Redknapp's tax trial case drags on through the summer and beyond (if convicted, ED is close to certain he will appeal), and given the precedent now set, where will England turn?
QUOTE OF THE DAY: "I don't blame Howard Webb - he needed help in that situation and he didn't get it. That assistant referee, who's all too happy to flag at Old Trafford for penalty kicks, didn't give them" - Sir Alex Ferguson refuses to blame his old mate Webbo, even if all evidence points to a blunder from the referee.
FOREIGN VIEW: The Spanish press reacted with shock and horror to the news that Barcelona pantomime villain Sergio Busquets was not play-acting when he suffered this nasty injury during the win over Real Socieded. The good news is that the Spain midfielder only suffered a deep gash and should be back in a few weeks.
COMING UP: Liverpool face Tottenham at 8pm as the race for the European places hots up; at 6pm Paul Parker will give his view on the Chelsea-United epic; and for fans of cricket, England's match with Pakistan is in its fourth and probably final day.