Hodgson left to deal with the difficult basics of a very complicated case


On Sunday, football again utilised its power to be a relentless provider of headlines; if the highly emotive game between Liverpool and Manchester United or the enthralling battle between Manchester City and Arsenal were not enough to stew over in the evening down-time before most reverted to the weekly grind, John Terry, as if he couldn’t bear to be marginalised by the day’s events, threw his own name into the desperate competition for space of Monday’s back-pages with a decision to retire from international football.

The timing of his surprising self-abdication from a squad he has been an integral part of for just under a decade was significant, it came on the eve of an FA hearing into his racial dispute with Anton Ferdinand that occurred in October of last year. Terry, firmly adamant in his belief of innocence that was shared to a degree by the courts in the summer who decided there was insufficient evidence to prove Ferdinand’s accusations true, voiced his concern that his representation of the authority that was just about to try him was now untenable and chose to withdraw his hat from the England ring.

Of course, there are many more qualified than this spectator to comment on the Terry case; lawyers have trawled through the evidence and accusations to much interest over the summer only to discharge the centre-half from his court trial, but now the FA want to see if their own investigation into the matter can yield enough information to punish their former captain on the grounds of racism. This has brought a simple dilemma for Terry; how can he, if found guilty this week, continue to play for an organisation that has marred him for discriminatory language? It is a question Terry has answered with haste to absolve the early days of the Roy Hodgson era from dealing with a man whose nature for the contentious has been a dividing issue, even a job-ending issue, for those who have preceded the new manager of the national team.

Hodgson, in a way, should count himself lucky that he will not have to deal with a man who was at the centre of the main points of Fabio Capello’s stint in charge of England; from his withdrawal of captain for his extra-marital affairs with a team-mate’s girlfriend, to his re-instatement of the armband, to his once again withdrawal that spelled the end of the uncompromising Italian. Hodgson will not have to deal with the politics or the sensitivity the Chelsea man entails to the extent he has often threatened to trivialise a once highly-esteemed position in English football. Here was man with a list of misdemeanours as long as the Wembley arch that was, until his exchange with Ferdinand tipped his measure of judgement beyond that of assault, drunkenly mocking the 9/11 terrorist attacks or taking £10,000 bribes to show people round his Chelsea training ground, a successor of Bobby Moore, a figurehead of the respect and dignity the English game strives to be based upon.

The remit of the England manager is far simpler than to deal with the controversies or nuances that Terry will bring to the party, but to replace his previously untouchable position at the heart of the England defence. Yet, simple is perhaps not the verb to use, for Terry remains, for all his failings, a very useful centre-half and with the lack of alternatives available to Hodgson, his legacy, rather aptly, has been to leave the manager with one final problem.

Phil Jagielka and Joleon Lescott were the central-defensive partnership that started England’s last game, the limp 1-1 draw with Ukraine, but it was Lescott’s error that led to Konoplyianka’s opener and the Manchester City man has subsequently struggled for form, or even selection, in his club side. Gary Cahill has had a decent opening to the season for Chelsea but there remains a slight concern over his ability against the very best after Athletico Madrid’s Falcao put the Blues’ back four to the sword in the European Super Cup.

Perhaps most frustrating of all for Hodgson is that Rio Ferdinand has, judging by his excellent performance at Anfield on Sunday, returned to top form and fitness but remains in international exile following his bizarre exclusion from the Euro 2012 squad that cynics believe was related to his implication, being Anton Ferdinand’s brother, in the Terry affair that the FA are now looking at. Michael Dawson has not yet played a minute of first team football for Spurs while Steven Caulker, so bright in his loan spell at Swansea last term, has only very recently broken into Andre Villas-Boas’ team. Ryan Shawcross, still tarred somewhat by his involvement in the horrid leg-breaking challenge on Aaron Ramsey, has been in imperious form so far this season for Stoke, but again there remain doubts over his ability at the very highest level. Underneath those, there is a very limited pool of talent, a hindrance Hodgson himself bemoaned when watching prospective England players at the weekend.

John Terry, at the age of 31, remains a superbly resilient centre-half, indicated by Chelsea’s refusal to leave him out of this weekend’s trip to Arsenal regardless of his lack of training due to his trial at Wembley. It will be incredibly difficult, for Hodgson to replace a man that has been so often devoted and committed to the England cause on the pitch if not on it and to discover a defender so vocal as Terry will be one of Hodgson’s toughest assignments in the coming months. However, the manager will be thankful, when he looks back at the sensitivity and controversy the defender has caused those who have gone before him, his task to replace him is the only Terry-related problem he will have to deal with.