Passing of the chalice

With the FA (apparently) no closer to appointing a successor to Fabio Capello as England manager, now seems like as good a time as any to look back at the circumstances that led to his eventual departure, and also what sort of legacy he leaves behind after his four years in charge.

The source of the whole discordant debacle emanates from John Terry’s alleged racial abuse of Anton Ferdinand back in October. Now, I am not advocating that we should stray from the long held virtue of justice, “innocent until proven guilty”. Terry has protested his innocence from the very start, as is his wont. However, when people in high profile positions from all walks of life face serious allegations of any sort about their conduct, it is not unusual for them to be moved on, or to step down, even temporarily. Terry may not believe he has done anything wrong, but he could have stepped down as England captain without any admission of guilt; simply, in the interests of maintaining harmony in the England camp, he could have stepped down until he had cleared his name, after which he would once again be considered for the captaincy.

But apparently such a conciliatory move was either unthought of by his PR men, or was regarded as an unpalatable show of weakness from England’s fearsome leader. It would have required a level of self-awareness that few people earning £150,000 a week probably have. Terry has every right to maintain his innoncence, but had he given an inch, there would have been no need for any of the concerned parties to take a mile. Instead, we were left with the farcical situation of Chelsea fans booing Rio Ferdinand because of who he was related to.

When the Crown Prosecution Service decided to press charges against Terry at the end of the December, both Terry and the FA missed the perfect window of opportunity to act in a timely manner. As Jez MacBlain said in this week’s podcast, if the FA wanted to remove Terry as captain, this was the time to do it. That the case was later adjourned until July is a moot point; it was scandalous indecision, a “wait and see” attitude that was never going to be to the benefit of anyone.

And when the July adjournment was announced, aside from continuing to look like rudderless oafs, the FA were presented with an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. They would have been well aware of (if not slightly allied to) the howling media campaign to remove Capello that had been rumbling since the World Cup in 2010. The situation had reached something of a crossroads. The FA couldn’t risk having their captain play at a major international tournament, then hot-footing it over to a magistrate’s court to face a charge of racial abuse. If found guilty, not only would the FA look even more like a bunch of chumps, but they would have had some serious explaining to do to their “advertising partners” as to why their man was allowed to lead the team at an international tournament in the knowledge of what could follow.

It does not seem beyond the realms of plausibility that the FA could have brought Capello into the discussion, and outlined their motives for removing Terry as captain. He may not have agreed with it or been happy about it, but one feels his position would have remained more tenable if they had not gone behind his back. Capello heard the news when he was on holiday. His departure was an inevitability. Capello would not have tolerated interference in his team at the best of times, let alone decisions made without his knowledge or consent.

The FA must have known this, which is why it is not hard to suspect an ulterior motive in the timing of their decision and the method by which they went about implementing it. Someone or some people in the FA wanted Capello out, and they got their way.

Despite everything, it is unlikely that his departure will make a huge difference at the upcoming European Championships. His record as England’s best ever manager can now no longer be tarnished by the inevitable tournament failure of England’s technically inferior players. Whoever takes the reins will have to cope with indousable fires of expectation stoked by a rabidly jingiostic tabloid press, and a squad of over-hyped players well accustomed to freezing in the international spotlight.

Hate crimes

We often hear about how Premier League footballers are “role models” of one form or another; can we trace the haemorrhaging of grass roots level referees back to the constant berating and almost physical intimidation of top flight refs by top flight players? Quite possibly. How about the sneering, overly-physical, borderline psychotic behaviour of many players down the local Goals 5-a-side league? Almost certainly.

This season, the bar has been set lower than before. First of all, Luis Suárez racially abused Patrice Evra on the 15th of October. What followed was one of the most undignified, obstinate, and petulant attempts at face-saving by Liverpool FC, who throughout the whole sorry affair, have behaved like a smacked toddler caught raiding the biscuit tin, endlessly crying and wailing to the point where they’re not even sure why they were doing it in the first place.

I would not begrudge any employer sticking up for their charge during a particularly difficult time. However all sense of reason seems to have left Kenny Dalglish when it comes to Suárez-gate, who has (publicly, at least) refused to entertain any notion that his man may have done wrong. After Liverpool’s 0-0 stalemate with Tottenham last night, Dalglish said “He should never have been banned in the first place.” At this point he is veering away from Siege-Mentality and heading straight for Plain Ridiculous.

Ragardless of Dalglish’s personal feelings on the matter, it is unfathomable that he is unable to see the negative effect his attitude is having on some sections of the Liverpool support. The situation of a player being booed by fans because he has been the victim of proven racial abuse by a player on their team is beyond the pale, beyond pathetic. It really makes you question just how far we have evolved as a species that the attitude of a few men can lead to such tribal pertinaciousness among the rank and file. Evra was booed by a significant amount of Liverpool fans during their FA cup tie with Man Utd because he refused to meekly accept the abuse dished out by Suárez. If Dalglish and Liverpool had behaved with any sort of decorum, common sense or attitude towards conciliation, this situation would never have arisen.

In a similar vein, Rio Ferdinand was roundly booed by a good number of the Stamford Bridge faithful on Sunday during Man Utd’s 3-3 draw with Chelsea. The unflappable logic behind it, of course, was down to him being the brother of man allegedly called a “fucking black c**t” by the Chelsea captain John Terry. Take that, common sense! What is most staggering is that these people are able to dress themselves in the morning.

It is a truly depressing state of affairs that racism and racist abuse of players has not merely crept back in to the game, but has walked into its front room and sat in the armchair without anyone batting an eyelid. Liverpool wearing Suarez T-shirts is tantamount to an admission that Suárez making racist comments is ok and that he could it again for all they care. Dalglish continuing to maintain the innocence of a man found guilty is only making matters worse.

Instead of fostering such a truculent attitude, Liverpool could have sent a clear message against racism by doubling Suárez’s fine, accepting the punishment and keeping schtum. Instead they continue stoke the fires of hatred by backing to the hilt and extolling the virtues of one the most odious characters in recent memory. It’s going to get worse before it gets better, and it won’t get better until clubs like Liverpool and Chelsea start acknowledging that some of their players aren’t reincarnations of Mother Teresa.