Jim White

Terry for Euro 2012? Capello must decide

Jim White

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John Terry and Fabio Capello (PA Photos)

It is not something we often can do, but hey, let's praise the FA. We should applaud Lord Bernstein and the game's governing body for its swift and decisive action in removing the England captaincy from John Terry pending his trial.

It was clearly the right thing to do. Hammersmith's aptly named District Judge Howard Riddle had thrown them not so much a puzzle as a mystery wrapped in an enigma. By postponing John Terry's trial until after the European Championship, the judge returned the issue of the player's continuing role as England captain back to the football authorities.

There they were at Wembley thinking that the moment Terry was charged by the police with aggravated racial abuse, they were absolved of responsibility for dealing with things. The court would decide whether he was guilty, at which point they could act accordingly.

Until the moment when his case was tested in court, under the age-old precepts of the law, he must be regarded as innocent. Not difficult for a couple of weeks. But they were assuming that such a decision would have been made long before the Euros. And then - prompted by Chelsea's submission that to try him during the domestic season would be unhelpful to their cause - Mr Riddle jimmys the FA blazers not so much a hospital pass as an invitation to the mortuary.

Never mind that the courts seemed to find a way to try those involved in the summer riots immediately, it seems there is not the time available in Hammersmith to hear Terry's case until July. After the Euros. In the highly unlikely event of England actually winning the thing, Terry could have lifted the trophy on July 1 and then eight days later be standing in the dock. It is not an image which fills anyone at the FA with much enthusiasm.

It thus obliged the Wembley authorities to do something. This was not an issue that was going to go away. They had been plunged into the middle of a circus not of their own making. The huge embarrassment of an organisation publicly pledging to eradicate racism from the game having as its most visible ambassador a man up on a charge of aggravated racial abuse was clearly not something that they could tolerate.  And Terry certainly was not about to get the FA off the hook by resigning the armband. Why should he? He will feel he is entirely innocent and that he has done nothing wrong. He will not back down. His self-image depends on his sturdy-jawed refusal to surrender.

How much simpler things would have been for them if the police had not intervened. After launching an exemplary inquiry into the Luis Suarez case, they acted with dispatch and logic and — give or take a bit of booing — put the business to bed. But thanks to Mr Riddle the Terry smell threatened to linger like a particularly unsavoury incident in the Wembley lift.

Yet the captaincy is but the start. If by removing the captaincy they have defused the endless scope for uncomfortable scrutiny — what David Davies the former FA man referred to as "noises off" — Terry's very presence in the squad remains an issue. Jason Roberts this week pointed out that some of the black and mixed race players in the England set-up will feel less than enthusiastic about lining up alongside a man with such a cloud hanging over him.

Though the player himself has yet to comment, many observers have suggested that it would be particularly hard for Rio Ferdinand, brother of the target of Terry's alleged verbals, to play with him. Team harmony — so vital in a tournament — might be fatally undermined by his presence in the dressing room.

And that is surely a footballing issue, something beyond the boundaries of a simple matter of law or morality. Yet Fabio Capello values Terry's presence highly and will not want to act rashly on what as yet remains only a possibility. Capello admires the way that, unlike so many others who mentally diminish the moment they pull on a white shirt, the Chelsea skipper seems to grow when wearing the three lions on his chest. The bigger the challenge the more substantial his self-regard. It is a rare quality within the English game and one not lightly dismissed. It has certainly what has kept him in contention for far longer than his diminishing physical assets might otherwise suggest.

The fact is, having done the right thing on the captaincy, the only thing the FA board can do about Terry's continuing selection is to devolve decision making to the manager. However genuine the cause for his dismissal might appear, publicly Terry can only be dropped now if his presence is regarded as counter-productive in a football sense. He can be selected or dismissed according to what he brings to the party and for no other reason. Does the smell now infect the rest of the squad sufficiently that his presence is counter-productive? And if so, can the manager contemplate a tournament without his bulldog at his heels? That decision has to be Capello's alone.

Fabio Capello is paid huge sums of money to sort out such conundrums. That is the point of management. But of this we can be certain: were Terry's knee injury to develop into a season-threatening ailment, you would be able to hear the Italian's sigh of relief in Milan.

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