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.

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