Sunday 18 March 2018

It's a sad life when the most we can hope for is a happy death

There are many reasons to admire John Terry. His determination as Chelsea's captain. His forceful personality and his resolute challenges, on and off the field. As the first England captain to lose his role because of alleged infidelity, he set a precedent which has become more and more dangerous as time goes by.

He did not want to hand over the captaincy and in South Africa he behaved as if he had, in fact, assumed some elevated position in Fabio Capello's hierarchy. Following the scoreless draw with Algeria, he went over the top with the bravery that is the hallmark of stupid men. He promised some tough talking and called for the introduction of Joe Cole, a stance which has become more and more ridiculous as time goes by.

Terry's attempted coup was slapped down. His dream of regaining the captaincy and the promotional opportunities that go with it is now further away than ever as Steven Gerrard is acclaimed as a leader of men.

England was craving this leadership in the summer but everyone is agreed that they have it now, even if Capello is criticised for not showing the same delight as everyone else.

Capello might be reflecting that celebrating now isn't much good. Nobody cared that he didn't do a David Pleat-style dance when England qualified for the World Cup and, having been through what he went through, he is unlikely to want to celebrate again.

Terry is a different animal and for a moment in South Africa, he was making a case for a particularly English type of hero when he dived full-length in an attempt to block a shot against Slovenia. England was ready to forgive, then along came Germany and there was no redemption.

But Terry is a fighter. He has done sex and now he's tackling another taboo: death.

These are subjects English football is unwilling to confront. Terry brings them to the forefront no matter what the consequences.

After Chelsea's win in the meaningless group stages of the Champions League on Wednesday, Terry said he "will not die happy" unless his team win the European Cup.

There are many ways of interpreting this, none of them uplifting. If Chelsea do win the European Cup in the next few seasons, will Terry consider his work on the planet done, sign up to Dignitas and book a flight to Zurich?

There are some who would consider this a fitting end to the unpleasantness he has caused while there are others, and I'd hold to this view, who would view assisted suicide as an over-reaction and certainly not the correct way to celebrate ending your long wait for a European Cup.

Or will he commit to good works and become football's answer to Albert Schweitzer? This would be most people's preferred option as they crave redemption even more than the redeemed.

If Terry does not win the trophy before his retirement, what then? Do we have to tolerate a slow and painful decline as the enormity of his failure diminishes him "year on year"? Will we witness a slide into paralysing torpor as the enormity of what he has failed to do and the consequences for his death bed, which will now be an unhappy place, sink in? Terry will become a pallid figure. He will be Tony Hancock without the jokes as he faces up to a life without meaning and a death which will not be happy.

At least he will offer some pungent, if bleak, analysis and that is rare. English footballers learned their lesson four years ago and avoided the post-World Cup biography so expertly summed up by another great figure, Joey Barton: "I played shit, here's my book."

Yet there is a significant new arrival in the saturated books-for-people-who-can't-read market. Still Dreaming - My Inside Account of the 2010 World Cup by Gary Lineker is aimed at that market, if it's aimed at anyone. Certainly, the only way I can imagine anybody enjoying this book is if they can't read.

Lineker is a modern phenomenon: a television presenter happiest when saying nothing and surrounded by people who are also saying nothing. His book is further evidence of his ease in this role.

If you want to know about football or football on television, then this book is not for you. I'm not sure what it is supposed to be on the inside of, unless we were supposed to delight in glimpsing the inner workings of a bland mind.

There are some weary attempts at banter which are even more lame in print than they are on tv. So Alan Hansen is a "generous Jock" and Lee Dixon was "more concerned about the negative effect it would have upon the back four -- as he would!"

Happily, there isn't a lot of this. Most of it is written in a diary so what we lose in mature reflection we gain in turgid repetition of the summer's daily headlines.

Perhaps Lineker thought that his hard-hitting views on Fabio Capello would make the book noteworthy. He led the charge to criticise the manager's English which has since been taken up by Richard Keys and others.

They want an English manager. A man who speaks English and can be understood by the players.

Perhaps, ultimately, England doesn't want the humiliation it had to endure this summer and that is why they want an English manager. Steve McClaren, who was appointed after a similar frenzy, avoided that humiliation by not qualifying for a major tournament. Keys has suggested Alan Shearer or Sam Allardyce, showing a regard for these managers shared only by the men themselves. On Friday, Allardyce suggested he should be coaching Inter or Real Madrid where "I'd win the double or league every time". He'd have a better chance if he was called Sam Allardici.

Terry, meanwhile, has a lot more on his mind. Chelsea's progress this season is now critical, not only to Roman Abramovich, who dreams of victory, but to Terry and his future, if mordant, happiness.

A happy death is a strange concept in itself but Terry is fearless and what Henry James called "the big thing" won't bother him. He has always been a man for the big occasion.

Sunday Independent

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