Sport Soccer

Saturday 24 February 2018

Foul play to boost Terry the player

IT SEEMS that if footballers want to progress on the back pages, it helps for them to spend some time on the front as well. Perhaps it's the stiff-upper lip, Churchill-style valour in adversity that allows English players in particular to have their private lives up for public discussion, and then, ironically enough, lead their team-mates by example.

"We shall fight on the beaches," was Churchill's legendary rallying cry to his country in 1940. "We shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills."

Had he been a modern-day football manager he would probably have mentioned something about fighting outside nightclubs or with DJs who refuse to play a certain type of music. It seems to produce a similar siege mentality.

John Terry, of course, hasn't done anything illegal in his dalliance with a former team-mate's former girlfriend but if, this summer, England are defending a lead in the late stages of a World Cup encounter, the ability of their players between the sheets will will matter a great deal less than their desire to keep a clean one.

It is in this scenario that Terry can continue the tradition of his countrymen by sticking his chest out under the spotlight when others would shield their eyes. Although in Terry's case, he has had plenty of practice.

Mother arrested for shoplifting? No problem, Terry will captain England to two victories, lead Chelsea to two Premier League wins and help knock Liverpool out of the Champions League.

Father dealing drugs to an undercover reporter? Easy. On the same day, Terry will score the winning goal against Manchester United at Stamford Bridge having repelled everything United could throw at Chelsea.


Revelations you slept with the former girlfriend of one of your best friends? A winning goal against Burnley in response. Yesterday's reports of further adultery? Set up Didier Drogba's opening goal against Arsenal and give a commanding performance to help Chelsea back to the top of the table.

Last season, Steven Gerrard faced less salacious accusations than Terry but, like his England team-mate, responded to being bailed by the police at the end of December to spearhead Liverpool's assault on the Premier League title.

By the time he was found not guilty of affray in July, Gerrard had produced the best season of his career, with eight goals in 13 league games as Liverpool's title challenge just fell short. Neither he, nor his club, have come close to capturing the same form this time.

Paul Gascoigne's greatest moment in an England shirt came soon after he was pictured in dentist's chair having drink poured down his throat by team-mates on a night out before Euro 96. Even by the standards of a Gazza circus, this was a new low.

Yet weeks later, having flicked the ball over Colin Hendry's head and volleyed it past Andy Goram, Gascoigne recreated the moment using the Wembley turf as the dentist's chair and water in place of vodka. Those who banged on about the disgraceful behaviour of the England team could no longer be heard above the din of 'Three Lions'. God knows how they would have celebrated had they won the tournament.

In between trips to Hull Crown Court where he was eventually found not guilty of either affray or grievous bodily harm with intent, Lee Bowyer managed to play the best football of his career in helping Leeds hit the heights in Europe. Yet unlike Terry or Gerrard, Bowyer's on-pitch performances during his two trials and tribulations were used to further demonise him to the point where, in a rare interview earlier this year, he said he felt he was "still thought of as guilty".

Jonathan Woodgate, who actually was found guilty of affray, did his community service but, in contrast to Bowyer, has rarely had the court case used as a stick to beat him with.

On the titillation scale, drinking and fighting don't compare to Terry's misdemeanours but there are plenty within the England dressing-room who can advise on how to put a career on an upward curve after a tabloid sex scandal in which players are "SHAMED" or "DISGRACED".

Within a year of making a sex tape while on holiday in Ayia Napa together, Frank Lampard had gone from West Ham to Chelsea for £11m and Rio Ferdinand to Leeds for £18m, moves that were pivotal in progressing their careers.

Months after revealing that he had solicited prostitutes in his youth, Wayne Rooney made a £25m move to Manchester United and was scoring a Champions League hat-trick on European debut.

Ashley Cole had a "wild romp" with a hairdresser, thus cheating on St Cheryl of 'X-Factor', which has done nothing to help his reputation as a person but as for his status among the best left-backs in the world, it hasn't mattered a jot.

Those rushing to argue that the Terry saga has brought the game to a new low might consider how the stars of the past would have fared had there been camera phones and a desire to learn every private detail of public figures. Would the hotel bellboy who found George Best with Miss World and thousands of pounds on the bed have asked the question: "Mr Best, where did it all go wrong?" or would he have taken quick snap, surveyed the scene and sold his story to the highest bidder?

Before the 1970 World Cup, Bobby Moore was falsely accused of stealing a bracelet and spent four days under house-arrest in Colombia. He then led his country through the World Cup group stages, produced one of the game's iconic moments in tackling Jairzinho and swapped shirts with Pele after one of the greatest games of his life.

By the time people become bored with his story, John Terry may wish that he was accused of something illegal rather than something immoral. Yet for all the damage it will do to his reputation as a person, history and recent performances suggest it won't do much harm to him as a player.

Irish Independent

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