The captaincy question

Overall, where cricket captains command “in the field,” soccer captains tend to be secondary figures. By Brian Glanville.

The captaincy question raises its hoary head again. None too surprisingly, in the context of the England team. And again none too surprisingly, in the midst of the discussion is the ever controversial ex-England captain, John Terry. Now that Steven Gerrard, after a sad World Cup, in which he gave goals away and showed his legs weren’t what they were, decided to retire from internationals, which Terry of course had done some time ago after not for the first time the captaincy was taken from him. Until ultimately he gave up playing for England too.

Did England miss him in Brazil? Unquestionably. In these pages one has already emphasised the dearth of decent centre backs with English qualification. In the 2014 World Cup Phil Jagielka, even if he did make one important clearance from goalmouth to frustrate Mario Balotelli of Italy, and Gary Cahill were simply not dominant or fully adequate players.

And Terry, whom the England manager Roy Hodgson decided not to ask to change his mind and return? He is no plaster saint. If his playing abilities are beyond all doubt, his life both on and off the field has hardly been uncontroversial. The question of his alleged racism, his supposed insult while playing against Queens Park Rangers for Chelsea, when he released a diatribe in the direction of the home centre back, Anton Ferdinand, ultimately landed him in a Magistrates’ Court. There you may recall the magistrate could not find him guilty and he was discharged.

That should have been that and indeed would have been had not the Football Association quite recently not changed its rules which prevented any case that had been settled in a court of law to be reopened by the FA. Reopened it was under a somewhat erratic chairman David Bernstein, finding Terry guilty and suspending him for a few matches, fining him and taking his England captaincy away.

Over the years it is true Terry has been in and out of controversy, yet this at the time seemed a case of what is called double indemnity and in due course had negative consequences for the England team. Terry, when Chelsea was on their way in the European Cup, which they eventually won, so foolishly and spitefully maltreated an opponent and was properly sent off, there seemed not the remotest excuse for his behaviour. You might say that in that competition he was truly star crossed since it was he in the Moscow shootout who slipped and missed a vital penalty enabling Manchester United to win that final.

Off the field, there have been displeasing incidents, yet on it there can be no doubt that with the odd exception, such as when he was all at sea against Germany in the 2010 South African World Cup, he has not only been a bulwark in defence but a supportive inspiration to those around him with his shrewd advice.

In the 2010 World Cup, he attempted to incite a mutiny among the England players in their training camp. At a press conference following a wretched showing against Algeria, Terry demanded the recall to the team of the attacker Joe Cole, a change in tactics and an insistence that he would speak whether Capello likes it or not. “If it upsets him, then I’m on the verge of saying, so what? I’m here to win it for England.” He got no support from his fellow internationals and had to make a humiliating apology. Yet when later the captaincy was removed from him, Capello was on his way.

In Brazil, I was quite sure that Terry would have made a difference, but overall it remains disputable just how much a skipper can do, or is allowed to do. Broadly speaking it is the team’s manager who calls the shots and great influential captains are few and far between.

In the fascinating 1974 World Cup final in Munich, both West Germany and Holland had inspirational and dominant captains, Johan Cruyff for Holland, Franz Beckenbauer for the Germans. Cruyff’s official position was at centre forward but in Holland’s scheme of Total Football, the revolutionary style virtually invented by Beckenbauer as a teenager at Bayern Munich, he was here, there and everywhere, never more dangerous than when he moved to the left wing and conjured his way past defenders. As for Beckenbauer, somewhat less adventurous in the final than in previous times, he had a huge influence on his team, both in defence and, as the attacking libero, in attack.

Northern Ireland, with their limited resources and a mere handful of true stars, would never have reached the 1958 World Cup Finals in Sweden were it not for the shrewd, original and creative captaincy of the elegant Danny Blanchflower at right half. A leadership which enabled his club Tottenham to win the English FA Cup and the League double for the first time in the 20th century in 1961. Northern Ireland, shocking the Italians by eliminating them in Belfast, would surely have done better in Sweden had Danny’s younger brother and centre half Jackie not been shockingly injured in the February 1958 Manchester United air disaster in Munich.

Yet emphasising the fact that a captain comes second to even the least efficient manager, Blanchflower was dropped from the Spurs team let alone the captaincy in 1956, after an FA Cup semifinal in which he had daringly but unavailingly moved his big centre half, Maurice Norman, up to attack. Dropped by Jimmy Anderson, an obscure stopgap manger, who had once been the third team trainer.

Yet it could be argued that Ferenc Puskas, who captained a great Hungarian team in the 1954 World Cup in Switzerland, did more harm than good, asserting his hegemony, insisting on playing in the final when still injured and affecting a team which had been playing splendidly without him.

Overall, where cricket captains command “in the field,” soccer captains tend to be secondary figures. When, in Italy they do have some influence they are known as “allenators in campo.” Meaning, the manager on the field. Still taking orders from the bench.