“I suppose the only time I felt disappointed was during the next game against Egypt, which was a friendly, and the armband got passed around between five or six players.
“I just felt, “OK, I’ve been stripped of the captaincy, but don’t take the p*** out of me”. Fabio had told me at the meeting that I was still a big voice in the dressing room and he wanted that to continue, but on the night it felt the opposite.
“Had I got the armband third, even fourth, I would have been happy, but Steven Gerrard was captain and first he went off, then Frank Lampard got it, and then Lamps went off and they gave it to Gareth Barry, and then he went off and it was anybody’s.
“I think they would have given it to one of the stewards ahead of me. Even if it was a friendly, we were still there to win and you should put your best people in charge.” – John Terry, in November, 2010.
A few men are born with a special gift, a gift to lead men. Leadership, something most people struggle to handle, comes naturally to such men. They lead from the front, take the maximum risks, and inspire those around them to deliver beyond what their threshold permits. John Terry is one such man.
In February 2010, the then England Captain John Terry was summoned to Wembley by Fabio Capello, and dishonourably discharged of his duties in a meeting that had lasted for not more than ten minutes. This was in the aftermath of the public and media ire, which was directed towards the Chelsea academy product for allegedly having an affair with Vanessa Perroncel, the ex-girlfriend of former team-mate Wayne Bridge.
Although it’s near to impossible for one to find out the extend to which the stories were true, even the most fanatical of Chelsea supporters knew deep down that his captain had erred. By doing what he did, he not only unsettled the English and Chelsea dressing rooms, but also jeopardised something which was immensely valuable to him – The Three Lions’ Armband.
It’s natural for lesser men to relish at the prospect of witnessing big men fall; it was no different in England. After the news of the super-injunction broke out, hell was unleashed on Terry. Just a few months before the World Cup, at a time when the entire nation should have been firmly behind their team, Englishmen clamoured for the head of their captain. John Terry, who was first appointed the England captain in 2006 by Steve McClaren, was Capello’s first choice as well; however, the Italian decided to appease popular sentiments, and sacked Terry. On the other hand, Carlo Ancelotti, his club manager, stood firmly behind him.
“There is no discussion about this. I don’t know why you ask me this. The players will never lose their trust in him. I am a manager and only want to speak about his work. He is a fantastic professional. All the club, the players, management and staff are supporting him and his family at this time.” – Ancelotti when asked about the future of John Terry in January, 2010.
Capello had his reasons; Terry was embroiled in quite a few controversies, and his name was all over the papers. Also, he hoped that Wayne Bridge would return to the England squad. Terry, who had emerged over the years as someone who lead by setting an example on the pitch, had set a wrong precedent off it. The Italian believed that if the blood-thirsty fans booed the captain off Wembley, it would not help the team’s morale ahead of travelling to South Africa. He made his choice, and Terry stood by it.
Capello’s new captain Rio Ferdinand, who himself didn’t have a clean record off the pitch, was ruled out of the World Cup due to injury, and Steven Gerrard was entrusted with the responsibility of doing what he had done over the years at Liverpool. To his credit, Gerrard was one of the better players for England, and tried to carry his dysfunctional team; however, it wasn’t enough. The Three Lions were miserable on the pitch, and Terry wanted to have an open meeting between the manager and the players to find out the cause for such pathetic displays. Even though he wasn’t the captain, he raised his voice for the team’s cause. Things didn’t go as planned, and this was labelled as a failed coup by a player who wanted to undermine the authority of his coach. One couldn’t have been farther from the truth. England failed at the biggest stage yet again, and all the hype surrounding the team was burst in a matter of days.
It has been thirteen months since John Terry was stripped off the armband. In this period, the Chelsea captain has remained away from the limelight, free from any sort of controversy, and has quietly served his time. On the other hand, he led his club to a historic double. The leader in him is still alive, and may have even grown to be stronger. The passion is still there to be seen; over the years, he has let his head, rather than the ball, meet an opponents boot, and he still puts his body on the line to serve his team. Although injuries have forced him to play by taking injections and his overall game has suffered, he is yet again on the cusp of regaining his old aura. Playing for England and captaining the national team still remains one of the most honourable of duties for him. One realises the true importance of something once it’s lost, and knowing Terry, he would not have forgotten the fateful February of 2010.
In Chelsea’s first ever Champions League final against Manchester United in Moscow in 2008, only a kick was standing in between the West London club and the elusive trophy. John Terry was there to take it, knowing exactly what awaited him. He slipped, and the ball grazed the post before flying away. He sank down, and couldn’t hold back his tears. He had waited for this moment ever since he was a 9-year old boy, cleaning the boots at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea players and fans were left distraught, but their pain was eclipsed by the sight of one inconsolable man on a painful night in Moscow. A small example of Terry’s character was revealed during an interview, in his living room. The captain of Chelsea FC, John Terry, has kept the shirt he wore on that night in Moscow in a glass cabinet, with the silver medal and the armband on it. He thinks about that night some 30-40 times everyday, and looks at the shirt for motivation.
Fabio Capello, after the World Cup disaster and with an eye on the Euro 2012, has apparently had a change of heart. According to the Italian, the tipping point was the last friendly against Denmark. In the absence of Ferdinand and Gerrard, the captain’s armband was passed from Lampard to Cole to Barry, while Terry was there on the pitch for 90 minutes, witnessing the unfortunate drama unfold before him.
“I was upset about the armband being passed around against Denmark. Who is the captain? Where is the armband? I do not like that. That was not a good moment for John Terry, either. I did not expect to talk about the captaincy so much when I took the job, but I understand now it is really important in England. I took my decision after what I saw against Denmark, because it made me understand the value of the captain and the armband in England.I didn’t like to see it going around the pitch. Until then, I had always had captains one, two, three, but then it was, I’m captain, then I’m captain. Now I will make it clear. I will decide.” – Fabio Capello
In September last year, after news of Wayne Rooney’s personal life broke out, the Italian had said “We are focused on the game, not about the private life of the players.” However, Terry had lost his job for similar reasons, as his behaviour and conduct on the pitch were impeccable. Either different players were being measured by different yardsticks, or the manager had already started reconsidering the decision he took before the World Cup. Anyway, today Capello has to make a tough call. Irrespective of whether he reappoints Terry the captain on a permanent basis or not, he will be criticised. He had once made a popular choice; can he now make an unpopular one? If after observing Terry-the-player for over a year, the wealth of experience that he has and his instincts tell him that the man has served his sentence and his natural leadership skills can help England, he should do the right thing.
Chelsea will play Manchester City this weekend. Team Terry will play Team Bridge. The London club has lost last three games against the Manchester outfit, and the last of which was the game that became famous for the handshake that didn’t happen. This is a match Chelsea FC has to win to complete its revival; also, this will be a game between third and fourth placed teams in the table, and the result may play a role in deciding how the season eventually turns out. John Terry will lead his team on to the pitch, knowing that an emphatic performance from his team, and especially from him, will be worth more than just three points.
One man erred, paid the heaviest of prices, and then redeemed himself; another man erred, paid a price, but the question remains – can he also do the right thing?