Tuesday 16 January 2018

English tabloids have tasted blood and they won't be going away

John Terry's real mistake was not asking Wayne Bridge to get involved. "There's no 'I' in threesome" as Interpol have pointed out and if Terry had obeyed the conventions of the dressing room and engaged in some group sex activity, then he would presumably still be considered a suitable captain for England.

His contravention of the code as laid out by footballers appears to be the reason Terry was stripped of the England captaincy, replaced by the moral giant Rio Ferdinand for whom the phrase "dangerous precedent" might have been coined.

There are other dangers in a Rio captaincy. As a man with a slightly alarming interest in culture, Rio may well view the handover as a switch to an Obama-like age of enlightenment after the dark, neo-con times of Terry when all that mattered was the dollar. Allegedly. Now we will have undue care and attention on matters like the World Cup record and the players' suits.

As the media and Fabio Capello congratulated each other for their principles, it was unclear what had been achieved. Certainly women may be wondering if they are free to choose their partners as Wayne Bridge asserted some primitive rights over his former girlfriend Vanessa Perroncel and her freedom of association. Not a lot for the role models there.

They were so caught up in the frenzy and pomposity, nobody stopped to wonder what was at stake. "Fabio Capello is fully up to speed with developments regarding John Terry," an FA statement read, suggesting a network of CIA men using backdoor channels to get the latest on Iran's plutonium enrichment rather than a lackey quickly scanning the News of the World to see how many other players Perroncel is alleged to have slept with.

Capello was recuperating from knee surgery and only on Friday did he arrive in London to be debriefed by Terry. Capello was waiting "to hear Terry's side of the story" it was reported with further solemnity, although how this would not simply descend into laddishness wasn't explained.

ESPN covered Chelsea's game at Burnley as if a great natural disaster had occurred in the hours prior to kick-off but too late to consider a postponement. They spoke of the "unnatural atmosphere" around the ground.

They all fell back on allegedly. On Match of the Day, Gary Lineker referred to the "so-called allegations" while poor old John Motson, who sometimes gives the impression that not only should football and politics not mix but that football and sport should not mix, used allegedly so many times during one radio briefing that he ended up referring to Perroncel as the "alleged" girlfriend of Wayne Bridge. You can never be too careful, especially as he was right.

Terry appears to have been Tony Soprano-like in his alpha maleness. Like Tony, he is prone to bouts of sentimentality and, again like Tony, he can't stop weeping. They are both highly sensitive fellows -- but sensitive primarily to their own feelings.

In the pictures of them together, Bridge follows Terry around with a certain amount of adoration. He is Christopher to Terry's Tony. He believes he is as close to him as any man can be but ultimately Tony does what is best for Tony.

Terry was looking after himself, that much was clear, but he was not alone in that. As David Davies, who used to work with the FA, said with an air of resignation, "finding a saint to lead the England team is an immensely difficult job."

The search is over now. Capello has been portrayed as a tough guy but he couldn't handle a media moving in for the kill.

"He's his own man," they swooned over Capello on Sky on Friday when he had shown himself to be anything but. As England put together a bid for the 2018 World Cup, he will have to include David Beckham in his squad for promotional purposes while Bridge will now be in it on moral grounds.

For most people, it was entertainment and another indication of the self-importance which, apart from the self-regard, the misplaced self-confidence and the low self-esteem, is the greatest danger to Capello's side in a World Cup year. The involvement of Manchester City just increased the comedy. In a remarkable display of team unity, all but eight of their players displayed 'Team Bridge' t-shirts after the victory against Portsmouth. Enjoy the high moral ground while you can, boys.

Again it was a crowded place, There are elements of the media now determined to use the forces of outrage to fulfil their own compulsion to make things happen. There is a nexus between online crazies and traditional media sanctimony which has created a dangerous ecstasy.

The internet is, in many ways, an old-fashioned medium and the written word is how everybody has to express themselves. For many who use it, this is a big ask. Most debates descend into abuse as that is the language with which they are most comfortable. It is a reductive force and perhaps they need to devise a new method of communication for internet forums: a selection of colours for different moods or maybe just some simple dots. They are always driving every debate and they are always outraged.

Capello needed to stand his ground. Bridge should have been told about women's rights and dropped from the squad as punishment for being too controlling.

Capello has failed his first real test. He gave the press what they wanted so it is irrelevant if he wanted it too. Their foot is wedged in the door and they're very persistent. Capello may have felt he was acting in the best interests of the dressing room but the most disruptive influence in a World Cup year has always been the English media and now they have tasted blood they won't be going away.

Only Terry remained true to himself. He has provided a lesson in harsh realities for everyone, including Wayne Bridge. He has asserted in the truest sense that there are no friends in football.


Sunday Independent

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