Wednesday 26 March ~
It's rare when all football writers agree on a topic. There's always at least one who takes a contrary line either out of a desire to distinguish themselves from the pack – Harry Harris of the Daily Express being especially known for this – or because they're under instructions to do so. After all, saying something different might just boost sales. Today, however, all the papers, tabloids and broadsheets alike, agree on two things – that Rio Ferdinand's appointment as England captain for the friendly in Paris is a surprise and that John Terry, who had been expected to be given the nod, is being duly punished for various misdemeanours. Fabio Capello, meanwhile, is surely baffled by all the blather and fuss over an armband.
Capello has already indicated the captaincy will be rotated before England's first World Cup qualifier in the autumn with Steven Gerrard and Gareth Barry widely tipped to be given the shouting, pointing and clapping responsibilities. John Terry too will get another go – indeed he may end up being regular captain. In the meantime, he has been snubbed. Capello denies that this is the reason but the papers are clear that it is a reaction to Terry's role in the Chelsea players' mobbing of Mike Riley at White Hart Lane last week. The Daily Mail, uniquely, has a consoling word for Terry, saying of the incident: “It later became clear that, in fact, he had been trying to separate the warring players.” Which suggests that Terry's advisers did some urgent phoning around as soon as Rio was announced as captain. There is also the matter of the disabled parking space which prompted complaints about Terry's alleged “arrogance”.
Rio Ferdinand has had plenty of negative press coverage himself of course. “I'm not ashamed to admit that I've made mistakes,” he tells the Mirror, which is just as well. Most of the papers have compiled a list of past misdemeanours – drink-driving, drug test-missing, general party-going – to be placed alongside pictures of Rio looking resolute in his new England blazer. At least two used the same approving phrase in summing up what they see as Capello's outlook – “my way or the highway” – but another comment from Rio also offers a little perspective. “We're on trial,” he said. “The players who deal with it best will wear the shirts from one to 11.”
In Italy, and just about everywhere else, a coach picks what he thinks of as his best 11 and then selects a captain from among them. Capello is telling the press what he knows they want to hear about the importance of the captain as a “role model” and all the rest of it. But if he wants a certain player to play in a crucial World Cup qualifier they'll be in the team, irrespective of how many times they've yelled at a referee or parked their car in the wrong space. After all, it's not as if there is serious competition for places.