So he slept with your ex. Get over it

Footballers like John Terry and Wayne Bridge need to man up and stop playing out their private dramas in public.

Duleep Allirajah

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When the John Terry love rat story broke in late January, I threatened to rip up my (admittedly non-existent) England supporters’ club card if Capello stripped Terry of the captaincy. Now I feel like ripping up my membership card because Bridge and Terry are behaving like a couple of big kids.

Of course, I was never seriously going to cheer for Anyone But Ingerland just because Mr Capello appeared to be caving into the moralists. But my point still stands. The personal feud between Terry and Bridge should have remained just that: a private matter. Footballers ought to be professional enough to keep their emotions in check for the greater good of the team. The ensuing farce, played out theatrically in public, suggests that I may have overestimated the ability of England’s finest to keep a stiff upper lip.

The meeting of the former Chelsea teammates at last Saturday’s Chelsea vs Manchester City game was treated as though it were a major diplomatic incident. There was an absurd degree of speculation in the build-up to ‘Battle of the Bridge’ over whether the two players would shake hands – a symptom of our unhealthy preoccupation with football and celebrity. What if Bridge refused to take part in the ‘fair play’ handshake? Would he face disciplinary action? Newspapers compiled lists of momentous historical handshakes. Commentator Martin Tyler described it as ‘the most eagerly anticipated fair-play handshake of all time’.

The handshake – or non-handshake – overshadowed the game itself. Match of the Day ran slow-motion replays, while studio pundits earnestly debated the players’ body language. Terry offered his hand. Bridge gave him the swerve. Matthew Syed in The Times described the stage-managed snub as ‘supreme piece of theatre’. The Daily Mirror, who declared that Terry had been ‘publicly humiliated’ by Bridge’s snub, enlisted a psychologist to decode the incident. ‘It was John Terry who lost his nerve and looked away first. It was a very deliberate action by Bridge. He had clearly planned what he wanted to do – he wanted to humiliate Terry’, said the shrink.

If Capello had hoped to draw a line under the matter by his swift and ruthless removal of the captain’s armband from Terry then he has failed wretchedly. The broken ankle sustained by Ashley Cole unexpectedly elevated Wayne Bridge from peripheral squad member to first-choice England left-back. That was until Bridge declared himself unavailable for England duty, saying ‘I believe my position in the squad is now untenable and potentially divisive’. (At least that’s what his statement said. The use of the word ‘untenable’ throws into question the authorship.) Capello suddenly finds himself with a defensive crisis on his hands. To compound matters, Terry’s own form has deteriorated in recent weeks. Moreover, there are reports that the England dressing room is divided into pro- and anti-Terry cliques. The ‘handshake that never was’ has come to symbolise the disunity within the England dressing room.

It’s a worrying state of affairs when Wayne Bridge’s absence is seen as a blow to England’s World Cup hopes. He’s hardly Stuart Pearce, is he? Is our pool of defensive talent so shallow that there are no decent left backs for Capello to call on? Everton’s Leighton Baines and Villa’s Stephen Warnock now find themselves in the England frame. Both are solid Premiership defenders but both are international novices. Warnock’s cause wasn’t helped by Sunday’s Carling Cup Final when he was given the runaround by Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia. England fans will be praying that Ashley Cole’s ankle heals quickly.

John Terry’s loss of form in the wake of losing the captain’s armband is also alarming. The player’s initial reaction to the media stories about his alleged affair with Bridge’s former girlfriend appeared to be characteristically robust. When Chelsea travelled to Burnley at the end of January, Terry not only seemed impervious to the constant jeering by the home fans but also scored the winning goal in the eighty-third minute – ‘John Terry scores away from home again’, as one newspaper headline put it.

But ever since Capello stripped him of the captain’s armband Terry’s performances have dipped. A series of high-profile gaffes from the normally dependable central defender suggest that Terry’s marital problems are starting to take their toll on his football. Those of us who thought Terry was made of sterner stuff are having to revise our opinions. Maybe the uncontrollable sobbing after the 2008 Champions League final in Moscow wasn’t just an aberration. Maybe, if we scratch the surface of his hard man persona, his inner wimp is all too evident. Maybe he can take the booing of opposing fans but can’t cope with the humiliation of losing the England captaincy.

We can but speculate and hope that Terry’s dodgy form is just a temporary blip. He has three months to get his head cleared in time for the World Cup. Terry’s recent wobble in form has highlighted the lack of cover in central defence. With Rio Ferdinand and Ledley King dogged by persistent injuries, the back-up cast doesn’t look terribly convincing. Can you see England winning the World Cup with Matthew Upson and Wes Brown in central defence? No, me neither. So, come on JT, pull yourself together. You bedded your best mate’s ex-girlfriend and you got found out. So what? Deal with it. There’s no excuse for not doing your job properly.

Duleep Allirajah is spiked’s sports columnist.

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