Time for Heroes

The two times England have reached the semi-finals of major tournaments since winning the World Cup in 1966, the Captain has not been greatly significant, as both teams were full of leaders.

In 1990, a squad that included Peter Shilton, Terry Butcher, Stuart Pearce, Steve McMahon and a young David Platt, was partly memorable for the amount of senior players, including Bryan Robson and Gary Linekar, who were involved in the change of tactical shape and selection after the first game in the tournament. The Euro ’96 squad selected by Terry Venables also included Pearce and Platt, as well as Gary Neville, Gareth Southgate, Tony Adams, Paul Ince, Teddy Sheringham and Alan Shearer – strong characters on the field and in the dressing room.

Of today’s group John Terry has always been a natural leader, and looked to be a future England Captain even before he was a regular in the team. When he did get in the team he did so on merit, notably forming a great partnership with Ledley King in the first game of the Euro 2004 against France. However those performances were a while ago, and if form was the biggest factor, Ledley King and Michael Dawson would have been the already assured centre-back partnership that began the last World Cup in 2010.

But Terry retained his place, even though by then he had already been disposed as Captain due to off the field behaviour that had caused disharmony within the England camp. Yet as Fabio Capello’s disastrous tactics and team selection resulted in abject performances in South Africa, the television pictures seemed to show that Terry was still the Leader on the pitch. His replacement as captain, Rio Ferdinand’ was injured, and the on-the-field captain, Steven Gerrard, appeared to be in Terry’s shadow.

Though Capello forced Terry to publicly step down from a supposed mutiny in that tournament, he did appreciate that Terry was a natural leader, but his judgement and handling in taking the captaincy away from Rio Ferdinand subsequently was flawed, and symptomatic of the incompetency of Capello’s reign, which could now be coming to an abrupt end.

Capello should of course have gone after the World Cup, and was no doubt fully expecting to, with a big pay-off. The FA, who initially waited for Capello to resign, ended up sticking with him due to the pragmatism of not being liable for a big compensation package and not having the confidence of an alternative candidate on hand.

As Mark Perryman wrote on this website on Friday, before Terry was formally stripped of the Captaincy a second time, the FA had no alternative; so symbolic is the role English Football couldn’t be in a position to have a convicted racist as Captain of a major tournament. Practically as well, Terry’s up-coming case would also hinder the commercial and media responsibilities that come with a role, as well as making the potential prospect of being the spokesman against any racism directed against England players in the summer hazardous, as Daniel Taylor wrote in The Guardian on Saturday.

In any other walk of life Terry would have been suspended until the case was dealt with, but his Defence team chose to ask for a delay in the case. Few of us know what the new evidence was that caused the CPS to press charges, or what Terry’s Defence is (although he is unlikely to take the Suarez line that some of his best friends are black, considering his last best friend was Wayne Bridge); however, it is clear the FA had no alternative.

Capello’s public disregard for his employers in embarrassing and unprofessional. The FA were right and decisive in dealing with Terry on Friday. They could now do the same again with Capello, who has shown little signs of progress on the field in four years, and if anything, has caused even more disharmony in his potential squad as well as undermining the next Captain, in the last 24 hours.

A Caretaker Manager with International Tournament experience, tactical nous and a real committed passion for the England Football team could come in and do the job until the summer. Glenn Hoddle has already spoken about how this England team could play with a 4-3-3, and getting out of the best of England’s current crop, while being able to have the confidence of a short-term captain.

And that Captain should be Scott Parker. Parker, Writers Player of the Year last Season, and central to Tottenham’s success this season, is one of the few players who will be guaranteed a start if fit. Man-of-the-Match in England’s last outing against Spain, he is a model professional, and a natural leader, the type England have lacked in the middle of the park since Paul Ince. The FA have the opportunity to make some changes now, with three weeks until the next friendly.

England can then look to future after the tournament, with Joe Hart as a long-term Captain, and a new Manger if required. But the time to act is now.

MG