…And so it’s finally happened: John Terry is no longer an England footballer. Always unlikely to retire in inconspicuous circumstances, Terry’s announcement on Sunday evening wreaked of conceited victimhood amid a backdrop of what is likely to prove, ‘on the balance of probabilities’, to be his racial abuse of Anton Ferdinand. People always talk of Terry as a ‘divisive’ figure, and this is certainly true in relation to his footballing abilities, but are we really split into separate camps when deciding whether or not he’s a nasty piece of work?
Happily, I truly believe that Terry’s departure from the England setup forces Hodgson to progress the team to the next stage of development ahead of schedule. I dreaded to imagine a 33-year-old Terry holding the defensive fort at Rio in 2014, keeping the defensive line tightly wound on the six-yard line. My position is this: Terry was a good footballer in his youth, but successive injuries and off-field distractions have caused him to become a sluggish, dangerous and often tactically disastrous performer, relying on his unquestioned ability to bark at his team mates (and managers) and stick his body on the line to retain his position as chief defensive enforcer for club and country.
An admission: I’m a Man United fan and was incredibly disappointed when Terry was selected ahead of Ferdinand for this summer’s Euros. I also strongly felt Terry’s performances were overrated, as his defensive frailties in important areas like positioning and game-reading often masqueraded as strengths, usually involving him flying in for last-ditch challenges deep into England’s penalty area. Well, some suggest Terry’s absence allows Ferdinand back into the fold to provide the experience Terry until now has provided, but with a greater ability to nurture younger players around him.
I suggest otherwise. Realistically, given Ferdinand’s fitness record over the past five years, there is little hope of him managing to play a key role at the heart of England’s defence for the World Cup qualifiers and in Rio itself at the age of 35, alongside his domestic responsibilities at United involving Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup fixtures. It just won’t happen. Instead then, I propose it’s time to promote the Lescott-Jagielka partnership that has only lost once in five games for England, including a 1-0 win against Spain in 2011. Admittedly Jagielka was farcically poor against Ukraine recently, but this performance was not in keeping with either his Everton form or previous England form.
Gary Cahill really needs to push his way ahead of David Luiz at Chelsea if he’s to force his way into the starting centre-back partnership for England, but his undoubted ability and Luiz’s talent for pissing managers off with reckless play doesn’t make this too unlikely within the current season. Steven Caulker is a very exciting prospect at Tottenham at the tender age of 20, and AVB’s clear distain for Dawson suggests he may be given significant first team opportunities as early as this season.
United’s pair of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling will also provide strong competition for centre-back places when they return from injury, although I do always wonder why people list them in this order (Jones… and Smalling). Any United fan who has watched them both over the past season would agree that at present Smalling is the more complete, assured player- particularly at centre-back, where Jones is prone to Terry-esque positional howlers and desperate last ditch lunging.
The Lescott-Jagielka pairing may come under so much pressure that it is eclipsed in time for Rio, but this would only ever be a good thing. Finally now, with the TOWIE-of-football Terry out of the scene, England’s defence will be selected purely on footballing merit between a group of competing players who represent England’s foreseeable future, rather than pure experience in terms of international caps and bullying ability.