John Terry – the lion who did not roar

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John Terry – the lion who did not roar

Depending on the viewpoint England’s 2010 World Cup campaign may have just reached a turning point or its lowest one.

John Terry had begun the day ready to roar like a lion but finished it, apparently, as quiet as a mouse.

Those who have been indulging in a little star spotting around the squad’s training ground at Rustenburg will have had little problem picking out the players. Three lions emblazoned on the front of their shirts and brick dust down the back after the execrable 0-0 draw with Algeria on Friday night left them with an all-or-nothing match against Slovenia on Wednesday that could see England dumped out of a World Cup finals at the group stage for the first time in 50 years.

Wayne Rooney complained bitterly and volubly about being booed at the end of the Algeria match but then released a statement of apology that might as well have been signed by the Football Association’s PR department. However, if John Terry’s appearance at a press conference on Sunday was supposed to be part of orchestrated damage-limitation exercise it may well have back-fired.

The former England captain, who was stripped of the role by manager Fabio Capello after revelations about the player’s private life, seemed to be there to play the mea culpa role for the team. So far so good, but thereafter there is a difference of opinion in whether he was searingly honest or delivering a very personal agenda.

The opening play seemed sensible enough, keeping it tight and feeling out the opposition when Terry said that he was “coming here on behalf of the players,” he said, establishing himself as a spokesman for the collective and that “there’s no unrest in the camp at all.

“We’re obviously still disappointed from the game the other night but we have to pick ourselves up and realise that we’re going into our last game needing a win.

“I’m not going to sit here and question the manager – we’re fully behind the manager. And since the manager came in he’s had his ways and philosophies and ideas that he’s brought to the side. And that’s worked in the campaign so nothing should change from there. We shouldn’t be looking for excuses or criticising the manager. We’re here supporting him, we’re fully behind him. We now we’ve got his support and that’s the main thing - all we can do is stay unified.”

The call for unity was followed by what was a succinct appraisal of what most of the fans who booed them off the pitch after Friday’s game thought. The only reason that some of them waited as long as they did to vent their frustration is probably an impossible combination to pray, cross fingers and boo at the same time. “After the game the other night, as a group of players, we hold our hands up. It’s not acceptable the way we played, the attitude we showed in the game.”

Then Terry’s attitude seemed to change to something more militant as he revealed a team meeting timed for later in the evening where he claimed there were likely to be some frank exchange of views between players and management.

“We’ve got a meeting tonight, probably to watch the game, to see where we went wrong – which is probably the whole 93 minutes actually,” Terry said, which raised a laugh but what came next raised far more concerns. “We owe to ourselves, our country and to the manager to be honest and if we feel in that meeting tonight things need to be changed then everyone needs to voice their opinion. If it upsets him or another player, so what?”

If that frank exchange of views included Stuart Pearce then it could well have been frank with a capital F but reports suggest that Terry kept his own counsel through much of the meeting. It is believed that Terry’s comments went beyond, in some cases far beyond, what others players in the squad are thinking and that Terry was taking the opportunity to hit back at Capello for his resent at being stripped of the England captaincy.

If that is the case than any tactical mistakes that Capello may have made in England’s first two group matches at these finals have been dwarfed by the blunder from those in charge of media image.

Terry was trying to present himself in the image of a male Britannia as he issued a rally call to fans, some of whom have quit South Africa early, to hold fire until after the final Group C game against Slovenia on Wednesday. It is over 50 years, Sweden in 1958, since England failed to qualify for the knockout stages of a World Cup finals. “The thing that’s keeping me going is this last game,” Terry said. “We can go into this game and prove people wrong. We can put on a performance that pleases everybody and more importantly get the three points and get us through the group.”

He was on a roll now as he delivered his version of Henry V’s Agincourt speech. “I think we just need to go out there and think ‘sod it’, we’ve got one game where we can make or break our tournament. It’s been three or four weeks I’ve been away from my family and I’ve come here to win this tournament,” he said, which neatly omits that, if he had stayed with his family before he would probably still be England’s captain rather than apologist.

“I don’t want to go home on Wednesday - I’m here to win it.” Another reason for wishing to avoid an early return may be the reception awaiting him and the rest of the squad. Four years ago, after the quarter-final defeat by Portugal there was a strong view that few players were that distressed. They simply returned to their clubs and the unconditional support of those fans. But there was a detectable sea change two years when they failed to qualify for the European Championship and were roundly booed by those same fans in the next round of Premier League fixtures.

“We’re probably 60 minutes through our group at the moment and we’ve got one more game to go. And I’m sitting here on behalf of the team asking the fans to get behind us again because, when they do, we have the best fans in the world. If we don’t qualify they can boo all they want. They’re entitled to their opinion – but I really don’t think it’s going to come down to that. We’re going to win the game and go through.”

A rallying call or England’s biggest own goal of the finals? If the brick dust can be replaced by some of the stardust that this team is supposed to posses those England fans will not really care.




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