John Terry, captain of the English National Team, which under the guidance of the granite-jawed Italian, Fabio Capello, marched through teams on its way to the quickest World Cup qualification England has seen, lost his captain’s armband due to a sex scandal involving himself, his former teammate and friend, Wayne Bridge, and Bridge’s girlfriend and mother of their child, Vanessa Perroncel. And while this very Terry-like intrusion into someone else’s penalty area, the frothing media hysteria, the PR war between those who want to turn Terry into a victim and those who want it all to end with a season on a reality TV show, is all very tedious, it is not as tedious as watching Chelsea play for the past five years which is more like watching a film of Stalin’s Russia than it is watching The Beautiful Game.
From his Italian boss’ perspective, stripping Terry of his captain’s band is not a question of morality. Anyone who watched Capello play or coach knows he’s far too pragmatic to think a player could not be a captain because an affair he’s had has come to light. Capello’s concern is what is best for the team.
British fans adore Terry because his work rate is among the highest and he plays even when his body is broken. Sure, there’s little else to like about him. He looks like a troll and he acts like one. The day after terrorists attached the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Terry and a couple of his pals capped off a bender by making 9/11-related comments to U.S. tourists at a Heathrow hotel. Terry, a man who makes over $250,000 a week playing for Chelsea, prostituted himself for $15,000 to give private tours around the Chelsea training facilities. In this case, Terry’s legal attempts to prevent publication of the story revealed that he probably bought the silence of his former mistress.
The problem is that all of this off-field tedium is mirrored by his on-field ability. Terry is an adequate Premier League center-back. His is a game of strength and positioning, never quickness, either in wits or feet. He all too often has to resort to “the professional foul,” taking a man to the ground who would have otherwise beaten him through cleverness or pace.
The “professional foul” is fine with the British fans. In England you can be an average player, the coach and former player, Gianluca Vialli points out in his book The Italian Job that “as long as you run yourself into the ground and chase everything, you will always be applauded.” That’s not the case in other countries, Vialli says, such as Capello’s home, Italy. There they are expected to win, above all else. This difference can be seen in the canonical literature of these two countries. In England it’s the Good vs. Evil of Beowulf. In Italy it’s The Prince of Machiavelli. In England, the Terry affair is being spun as the brave and honorable John Terry being victimized by the ambitious she-devil and its psychological tangent that Terry’s behavior is typical of ultra-competitive alpha-types who are addicted to risk-taking.
Machiavelli wouldn’t agree. In fact, he’d describe Terry as weak-willed and a bit pathetic. Not for having sex with a woman other than his wife, but for either being too dumb, naïve and arrogant to not protect himself from a woman who worked her way into a footballer’s club as a waitress then had a child by another footballer. Her business model is clear.
When Capello sat with Terry to talk about the affair, Capello knew what he’d need to do. Wayne Bridge could be on the English National Team and the possibility of disharmony was too great whether he was or not. According to the English way, Terry would have to be punished. With the wrong righted, the English players can get on with playing. Sadly lacking from their team is the same energy, motivation and discipline Vanessa showed in taking herself from the lower middle-class to an upper-class life. It takes cunning, a lot more than Terry has.
Meanwhile, Terry's wife has taken their children to Dubai, a shopper's paradise and a place where extra-marital affairs are illegal. Machiavelli would approve.