Natural born leader worth weight in gold
Published 25/03/2011 | 05:00
Giovanni Trapattoni may envy his compatriot Fabio Capello the stirrings of form and maturity in such England stars as Wayne Rooney and Jack Wilshere. Not, surely, though the overwrought debate surrounding the reinstatement of John Terry as captain.
Old Trap doesn't have a captaincy problem -- not if you set aside the worries about Robbie Keane's thin ration of first team football this season. Keane has experience and respect and a proven desire to do well for his country and when he puts on the armband again against Macedonia it won't be a provocation to any of his team-mates.
This will hardly be the case in Cardiff, when Terry resumes office in the qualifying match with Wales against a background of resentment that has fuelled bitter controversy ever since Capello hinted he had re-thought his decision to fire the Chelsea player 13 months ago in the wake of seamy revelations about his private life.
Ironically enough, neither Capello nor Trapattoni would normally put great weight on the significance of the captaincy. "In Italy," Capello said as the storm clouds began to build around Terry again, "it is never a big issue. Who has the most caps, Baresi or Maldini? Is it Baresi? Well, give him the armband. In Italy we think like that, but in England I have discovered it is different."
In England and Ireland there is, of course, a long tradition of outstanding captains, natural leaders, in their different ways, like Billy Wright, Bobby Moore and Bryan Robson for England and Johnny Giles, Mick McCarthy and Roy Keane for Ireland.
The Italians believe that their football culture is better able to produce senior players with a finer sense of personal responsibility ... and a deeper understanding of the team ethic. Thus, they place much less emphasis on a nominated leader.
So, why did Capello go back on his original decision? It was because he saw that for all his imperfections, Terry had a conviction in his own powers of leadership that went far beyond any produced by rivals like Rio Ferdinand, on the rare occasions he was fit, and Steven Gerrard.
Capello knows there is plenty of evidence beyond the shores of Italy that the difference between a winning and losing team is the quality of one individual's ambition and performance. No-one ever produced a greater example of this than Roy Keane ... on Italian soil in 1999. Manchester United were down and out in the European Cup semi-final second leg when Juventus struck hard and early with two goals. There then followed the ultimate tour de force of captaincy.
Not only did Keane win one goal back with a fierce intrusion into the Juve box at a corner, he almost single-handedly gathered up the shattered morale of a team hit by that opening burst from the home team.
United director Bobby Charlton later confessed that he had to leave the Juventus directors box quite sheepishly, so animated had he become at the scale of Keane's performance.
"I played under great captains like Roger Byrne at Manchester United and Bobby Moore for England, but I had never seen anything quite like Roy Keane that night in Turin," said Charlton.
"I was constantly off my feet applauding his work. Do teams need a strong captain, someone to look up to when the pressure reaches a certain level? If you didn't believe it before that night, you had to afterwards.
"Bobby Moore was equally impressive in a different way in the 1966 World Cup final when we fell behind against West Germany. He wasn't as demonstrative as Keane, obviously, but you could not have felt his presence more strongly.
"He took the game back to the Germans, breaking down the left, winning a free-kick and then putting a perfect ball on to the head of Geoff Hurst.
"We always felt confident after that. When the game could have gone either way, Bobby announced himself very firmly. That's
what the great captains do."
When Keane left the 2002 Irish World Cup campaign after his firestorm with Mick McCarthy, the dismay could only be redoubled by the thought of his contribution to the team's presence in the finals. In the decisive qualifying game against Holland he had never been so immense as a leader, despite the obvious effects of injury. He was insistent that Ireland would make it to the Far East -- and, of course, they did.
Robbie Keane will probably not be required to produce such heroics against Macedonia nor Terry against Wales -- which is probably just as well, given the extraordinary competitive levels achieved so consistently by Keane. But then today's skippers do represent something that is increasingly valuable in the modern game.
It is a degree of passion, a need to succeed, which is not always apparent when so many players have noted the clear dividing line between the long-term career value of playing well for your club and your country. Keane plays essentially from his heart, as does Terry.
In the latter case it is a heart which is, of course, not universally seen as worthy of uncomplicated praise.
Terry certainly didn't earn his sacking lightly, drawing allegations of conducting an affair with the partner of his former Chelsea team-mate and friend Wayne Bridge. He was also seen to have attempted to exploit his position commercially. Capello felt that Terry had made his captaincy untenable and swiftly decided upon the chop.
However, that was before he had made any kind of a study of available options. Softening the ground before this week's announcement, Capello said that he still believed he was right to fire Terry when he did, but also that sometimes in football, as in life, situations change. "I now think that the team will be stronger for having Terry as captain again. It is my decision -- and my decision alone."
It is maybe also a concession that when in England, an Italian football man must do as the English do. He must take leadership from wherever he can find it.