4 Feb 2012

Fabio Capello and a deja-vu England dilemma

The FA’s decision to strip John Terry of the England captaincy means Fabio Capello faces his biggest decision so far, writes football commentator and author John Anderson for Channel 4 News.

Fabio Capello is much less imbued with the notion of the captain as figurehead than many of his counterparts in this country. The image of Bobby Moore wiping his mud-stained hands before receiving the Jules Rimet trophy from the Queen in 1966 is seared into the English psyche. Italians do not feel quite the same way about Dino Zoff or Fabio Cannavaro; they may have been the men who actually lifted the World Cup, but it was more in a ceremonial sense, as the symbol rather than the heartbeat of a collective unit.

So, given his comparative scepticism about the significance of the armband, Capello must be mightily exasperated that the issue has again reared its ugly head. Rather like a supermarket deli counter, the England coach seems to employ a “take your ticket and wait your turn” approach to the national team captaincy.

Capello seems to employ a ‘take your ticket and wait your turn’ approach to the national team captaincy.

Two years ago when Terry first had to stand down, following allegations of an affair with the former partner of Wayne Bridge, Capello invited the second choice in his pecking order, Rio Ferdinand, to take over. Then, when Ferdinand got injured at the World Cup, the job fell to number three Steven Gerrard. In November’s friendly against Spain when Terry was left out and Ferdinand and Gerrard were injured, up stepped fourth choice Frank Lampard.

The problem now facing Capello is that none of these 30-something players, Terry included, can any longer be considered indispensible to the national team, due to concerns about age, form and fitness. All three in the case of Ferdinand who, let us not forget, is the brother of the player allegedly abused by Terry, a situation which gives rise to another unwanted selection dilemma.

England dilemma: Fabio Capello and John Terry. (Reuters)

If Capello casts a glance further back down the deli queue for a captain, he will see that it is very much Co-op rather than Fortnum and Mason. Despite having seven short of a hundred caps, Ashley Cole would run a mile, given the captain’s obligations towards the media. The Chelsea left-back’s relationship with the press is frostier than the current cold snap.

Wayne Rooney had been touted in the past but, of course, that senseless kick at Montenegro’s Miodrag Dzudovic has scuppered the chances of a player who, let’s face it, would be unlikely to bring any of Moore’s grace and dignity to the job.

So who does that leave? Glen Johson’s love affair with the media is every bit as ardent as Cole’s. Phil Jones is certainly one for the future, but would it be sensible or fair to ask a 20-year-old with only a handful of caps to lead the nation into major tournament? Ashley Young, Theo Walcott, James Milner and Gareth Barry do not appear to show any obvious suitability or desire for the role. On the plus side you could certainly argue that Scott Parker, once skipper at Newcastle and West Ham, would be worth a go.

Who should skipper England?
@pookie_uk Honestly? Who cares. As if the England football team has any hope of winning any competition in my lifetime.
@timchild82 Scott Parker.
@Joaodeanz Scott Parker will be good.
@amys268 Lampard.
@ribs909 Only one candidate....@JONSNOWC4 !!
Add your voice to the debate on Twitter @channel4news

But, here’s a thought. Maybe the Italians and other European nations have got it right. Perhaps, unlike their counterparts in cricket and rugby, football captains are good for little more than standing at the front of the line, hand shaking, coin tossing and trophy lifting.

England’s pitiful lack of tournament success since 1966 suggests that Moore was a one-off, and that his standards are impossible to live up to. The time has come for England, as a team and a nation, to stop being so fixated with who wears the armband and let him perform the ceremonial duties without the added pressure of being all things to all men.

And so I would ask Fabio Capello to nominate Joe Hart as our new national team captain. He’s a guaranteed starter and an excellent player; respected, popular, level headed and a jolly nice chap to boot. What more qualities do you need? And let’s not forget, on the last occasions the European Championship and World Cup trophies were handed over, it was into the reliable hands of a goalkeeper.

You can follow John Anderson on Twitter via @GreatFaceRadio