In some respects, the furore surround the John Terry affair (for the want of a better phrase) says as much about the British and their attitudes as it does about Terry himself. The Guardian reported this morning on the mild amusement that the issue has caused in Italy, a country in which attitudes towards such matters are somewhat different to those currently on display in this country. The hypocrisy of the press in salaciously reporting their outrage at what has been going on whilst making absolutely certain that their readers know as much as they possibly can without overstepping the self-imposed – and wafer-thin – line that separates their “exposés” from, say, a reader’s letter in “Razzle” causes roughly equal amounts amusement on the continent, where such matters are usually treated as, well, private.
The swift action of Fabio Capello may or may not strangle the slavering masses of the fourth estate. In some respects, his swift action may be the end of it, but the truth of the matter is that this is unlikely. If there are more stories to come about Terry’s antics, we can be reasonably certain that they will emerge over the next few days. The floodgates are open, and it is open season on him, after all. The question of whether Wayne Bridge deserves any sympathy and time to get on with dealing with the embarrassment that this has caused him is completely irrelevant. For all the squawking and crowing about morals, this is a story that is all about selling newspapers. To that extent, it isn’t even really about football.
Except, of course, that it is. What have we learnt about football this week? Well, we have learnt that Chelsea’s unwavering loyalty to their player is almost touching. There was never any question of Carlo Ancelotti taking any disciplinary action against him. We may also have learnt the reason why all the tea in China wouldn’t have moved Terry to Manchester City during the summer. Most notable, however, has been the behaviour of the Football Association and Fabio Capello themselves, and there are two quite distinctly opposing conclusions that we can reach about them.
The first is that the FA decided straight away that this was a hot potato that they didn’t want to or were incapable of dealing with. They might have taken swift action against him themselves, but decided to pass it over to the coach instead. The second is the more charitable way of looking at it, which would be to say that the FA have absolute faith in the ability of their coach to deal with this matter, and that they are not, ultimately tinkering in matters that relate to the team. To this extent, the FA would have been damned if they did, and damned if they didn’t. If they hadn’t passed it over to Capello, they would have stood accused of intervening in matters that aren’t their concerned.
Moreover, the matter of whether anybody should be looking to footballers for moral guidance is also being debated, and this might even prove to be to everybody’s benefit. Considering that England needed a replacement captain, one of the more enjoyable ways to spend the week has been to go through the entire team, ticking off every player that might not have been a perfect example of moral rectitude down the years. Many seemed to alight at Gareth Barry, although if exacting enough criteria are set you can eventually conclude that the only person that is fit to coach the England team is Bill Oddie, and there’s even something of a case that can be made against him of you try hard enough.
The England captain’s job is a peculiar one in world football. No other country treats it with such reverence and whether it is even actually even as important as so many seem think it is is open to question. It shouldn’t even really matter that much that Rio Ferdinand is to be the new England captain. What will prove to be more relevant in the medium to long term is the question of whether the behaviour of John Terry – and that if the tabloid press in stirring it up – ends up having a disruptive effect on the dressing room in the build up to the World Cup finals. None of this is to say that these matters should necessarily be kept quiet, but the fact of the matter is that the interests of the scandal rags may cause collateral damage in damaging their chances of winning the World Cup, and that this particular section of the press couldn’t give a damn whether they do or not. This may be worth bearing in mind when the newspapers are loudly trumpeting how much they love England during the summer.