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Terry for England?

When news broke over a month about the private life of John Terry, few would have anticipated the saga that would evolve over the coming weeks. You don’t have to have been a football fan to have been following this story that would rival most soap operas. It has been splashed across the front pages of tabloids and broadsheets alike and it shows no signs of going away. Hopefully now Terry and Wayne Bridge have come face-to-face on the pitch, the story will fade away and football can take pride of place again. Bridge has abandoned his hopes of representing his country at the FIFA World Cup in South Africa over the episode, supposedly over Terry’s failure to apologise, but there is growing concern over the position of John Terry in that team.

As the highest paid central defender, and 9th highest paid footballer on the planet, he would appear to be one of the very best in his role. And for a long time, it would have been difficult to argue with this fact. The banner that hangs in the Matthew Harding stand at Stamford Bridge – ‘Captain, Leader, Legend’ – sums up the views of the Chelsea faithful and he has been admired by managers and fans throughout Europe for his performances on the pitch. Never one blessed with an abundance of pace, he has made up for this with his ability to read the game and a combination of his physical presence and fearless attitude. However, since the scandal broke, he has looked a shadow of his former self, and the intense media scrutiny is clearly having an effect on the Chelsea and former England skipper.

By his own standards, Terry will admit that he has not had the best season. However, an impeccable performance against Birmingham on January 27th was his best of the campaign and it looked as though he was getting back to his imperious best. Then the story broke. Ancelotti claimed that it would not affect Terry; that he was a big enough character to stay focussed on the pitch. The first game after the allegations came out, he scored a late winner against Burnley and it appeared that his manager was correct. He was applauded for his mental strength and ability to leave any personal baggage in the dressing room.

However, over the last couple of games, he seems to be feeling the pressure and mistakes are creeping into his game. By his own admission, he was at fault for both goals as Everton beat Chelsea at Goodison Park, losing Louis Saha from a corner for the first goal and misjudging a header allowing Saha in behind for the second and winning goal. An uncertain performance against Wolves followed as Chelsea recorded a narrow victory, despite an uncharacteristically nervy performance. Chelsea then headed for the San Siro to face Inter Milan, where Terry was again at fault for an early Diego Milito goal, his lack of pace now being exploited and punished.

However, the real test of his performance under scrutiny came last weekend as Wayne Bridge’s Manchester City were the visitors to Stamford Bridge. The media circus had been focussing on the handshake between the players, which never came, but more noticeable was the distinctly underwhelming performance from the Chelsea captain. Ancelotti claimed that Terry’s performance had been error-free, but it was clear to even the most casual of viewer that he was struggling with his form. At fault for the opening City goal, where he was turned too easily by Carlos Tevez, then was unable to catch him, he had a miserable afternoon as Chelsea were beaten at home for the first time this season. Questions are being raised about his presence in the Chelsea side.

So, whilst England have lost their second choice left back over the whole affair, the relentless media pressure and scrutiny of John Terry has clearly had an impact on his performances on the field. Given his current form, he looks a liability at the back, and if it was anybody else alongside Ricardo Carvalho, he would surely have been dropped by now. Fabio Capello has demonstrated that he is not afraid to make big decisions, having axed Terry as captain already, so if Terry is unable to break out of his current slump, his position in the squad has to be in question. England do have other options in the heart of the defence: Rio Ferdinand, who is likely to take over as captain, is a certain starter; Joleon Lescott and Matthew Upson have played in that position for England before, whilst Ryan Shawcross and Michael Dawson have been putting in a string of quality performances in recent months.

If he is not an automatic first choice on the team-sheet, there is an argument that squad harmony would be improved by not taking him at all. The French side of 1982 experienced a similar episode during the tournament itself, where following defeat in the opening game, rumours came out that Jean-François Larios was having an affair with the wife of Michel Platini. Larios was sent home immediately and the improved atmosphere was cited as the reason for the improvement in performances over the remainder of the tournament.

If the incessant media attention on this story does not cease in the coming weeks, the pressure on Terry will only continue to grow, and it is impossible for any player, no matter how mentally strong, to ignore it and not let it affect their performances on the pitch. As the saying goes, ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’, and it cannot be denied that John Terry has been one of the top defenders in the world over recent seasons. However, his lack of form will be a concern to Capello, and a failure to improve could eventually cost him a place at the tournament where he once may have dreamed of lifting the famous trophy.

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