Early Doors

England need to skip to the end

Early Doors

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This morning, Stuart Pearce will tell the England squad which of them gets to wear a scrap of fabric round their arm and with it the responsibility of speaking to the referee when Netherlands come to Wembley on Wednesday night.

If that sounds as though Early Doors is playing down the importance of the captaincy, then that's because, well, it is. Someone certainly needs to.

ED suspects you may have already noticed, but in recent years England appears to have developed a fetish for the role that few other countries share.

That simple armband has become imbued with far more significance than it merits, despite John Terry's admirable attempts to discredit it in recent seasons.

Yesterday's press conference with England's caretaker was, predictaby, dominated by it.

When had he decided who it would be? Why was he not revealing a name to the press? When would he tell the chosen man? Would delaying an announcement not create uncertainty amongst the squad?

This final question was ED's favourite, carrying with it the implication that a bunch of professional athletes might be unable to focus on training without the critical matter of the captaincy being sorted, that the unknown ownership of that famous fabric would leave the squad wracked with insecurity.

Pearce patiently outlined the qualities he is looking for in his captain to the assembled press, many of whom had earlier been speculating that Joe Hart's presence at the press conference meant he would be Pearce's pick.

"You have to bear in mind this might be a one-off scenario," Pearce said. "When I pick the captain he has got to be somebody in the starting XI, somebody who has got the respect of the other players, somebody who is unselfish, leads by example and puts the group before himself, which is a vital commodity.

"There is no doubt there are several candidates. It has to be someone I am comfortable working with but the most important thing is how the team plays.

"The captain will be announced tomorrow when the team is announced tomorrow morning. It's a format that I have followed at club level and Under-21 level and I didn't see it necessary to change it at this moment in time."

Pearce was also forced to deny suggestions that he deliberately decided against naming a captain yesterday to avoid the new skipper having to face a grilling about taking the armband in the wake of Terry's demotion.

The captaincy riff extended into Joe Hart's subsequent press conference. Of course the goalkeeper was asked the question now obligatory for any England player: would he like to be captain (though, strangely enough, ED recalls that Stewart Downing was merely asked if he would back Steven Gerrard).

Hart was also asked by one of the assembled hacks whether a goalkeeper could be captain. He quite rightly cited Iker Casillas in his reply, though another World Cup-winning skipper in Dino Zoff would also have sufficed.

Credit to Hart, he humoured a bunch of journalists who could have been asking a multitude of questions with the great Netherlands coming to town yet, as ever, focused on that pesky armband.

"It is an ambition, of course, to be England captain and there have been examples of keepers lifting trophies as captain," Hart said. "But it has been made pretty clear it is not my job today to speak as captain. It is still undecided and the manager is going to announce that tomorrow. I've just been put forward to speak and there are no real links to it.

"Captaining your country would be amazing and a great honour but it's a long way off happening for myself. I've no experience of it really. I've always played at junior level a couple of years above my age so I was never going to come in and captain those sides. I've never worn the armband. There are some big candidates and big names with a lot of caps to be put on the table."

The question that should now be asked is this: at what stage did said armband become the most mystical piece of fabric since the Turin Shroud?

It was an issue that dogged Fabio Capello throughout his reign: initially bemused by the importance attributed to it, the Italian then made a horrible mess of moving it around his squad before finally resigning on a point of principle when it was removed from Terry without his approval.

In what other country would this happen?

Three other international sides decided matters of captaincy yesterday with minimal fuss: Craig Bellamy was made Wales skipper for tonight's game against Costa Rica; Hugo Lloris (a goalkeeper, perish the thought) got the job for France at Euro 2012; and Steven Davis was appointed Northern Ireland skipper on a long-term basis.

Yet the England captaincy circus rolls on and on.

One attitude to the armband has it that England should follow the Italian model and just give the captaincy to whichever player has the most caps.

ED is opposed to this notion, if only for the fact that such a scheme would ensure Ashley Cole gets the job, something that not even Ashley Cole wants to happen.

For now it appears Steven Gerrard is the leading contender, though Scott Parker, Hart and, rather more laughably, James Milner are all reported to be in with a shout.

We will find out soon enough, though even then Pearce's decision will inevitably be followed by enthusiastic analysis of the choice, and gushing platitudes towards the man in question.

Maybe it will be Gerrard, maybe it won't. Either way it doesn't really matter. England won't win Euro 2012 and we won't be crowning a new Bobby Moore - the prototype of the national captain.

Now can we talk about something a bit more important, like why England won't be winning Euro 2012?

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MEDIA LOVE-IN OF THE DAY: The tabloids are all a flutter this morning with speculation that Jose Mourinho could be buying a house in London. The Special One was back in the capital yesterday and his presence alone makes the front page of the Mirror, who on their website helpfully illustrate the story with no less than five pictures of the Real Madrid coach in the street. The Sun also claim their own photo of Mourinho standing in a street as a 'world exclusive'. It's all just a bit embarrassing, but, to be honest, ED is also rather excited about the possibility of his return to these shores.

FOREIGN VIEW: A Spanish radio station has withdrawn an item broadcast last year in which it alleged Barcelona players were involved in illegal doping and has agreed to pay the club 200,000 euros in damages. Cadena Cope published a statement on its website on Tuesday saying the allegations, made in March 2011, had "proven to be untrue and had come from an unverified source".

"It is recognised therefore that an unlawful interposition against the honour of the club in question was committed," the statement said. The allegations, which Barca denied and demanded be withdrawn, were particularly controversial as local media reported that the source was an unidentified official at Barca's arch-rivals Real Madrid.

COMING UP: Theo Walcott goes Under the Microscope following his performance against Spurs at the weekend, while the Euroscout also takes a close look at Netherlands midfielder Kevin Strootman ahead of Wednesday's friendly against England.

We have all of Wednesday's matches covered, with live commentary of England Under-21 v Belgium Under-21, England v Netherlands, Ireland v Czech Republic, Germany v France, Northern Ireland v Norway, Slovenia v Scotland, Wales v Costa Rica, Italy v USA and Spain v Venezuela.

Before all that gets underway, Jim White files his latest column and we spend rather more than 60 seconds in the company of Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill.

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