Last week, England manager Roy Hodgson ruled out offering Chelsea defender John Terry a way back into the Three Lions fold ahead of the 2014 World Cup.
The 33 year-old hasn’t featured on the international scene since controversially announcing his retirement in September 2012, after the FA stripped Terry of his England captaincy and pursued charges against him for racially abusing QPR’s Anton Ferdinand, despite being cleared of the same crime by a Westminster Magistrate court.
The Blues defender judged his position in the England squad as ‘untenable’ at the time, but amid a miraculous revival in form under the returning Jose Mourinho at Stamford Bridge this season, many were calling for the former Three Lions skipper to be re-instated.
Understandably so; Chelsea currently don the best defensive record in the Premier League with just 21 goals conceded, and barring a recent two-match absence through injury, Terry has played every minute of every game for the title hopefuls this season. A far cry from last term, when the veteran defender was deemed too slow for the Blues’ starting XI under interim manager Rafa Benitez.
Terry’s consistent performances has seen him re-emerge as one of the best centre-halves in the top flight, and thus, through default, the best central defender the country has to offer.
Furthermore, with his regular centre-back partner at Chelsea being England international Gary Cahill, who is at the forefront of Roy Hodgson’s World Cup plans, it seems almost obligatory that the in-form Blues duo should be at the heart of defence for England in Brazil.
Similarly, left back Ashley Cole – whom despite falling down the pecking order at Stamford Bridge in recent weeks is still expected to feature heavily at the 2014 tournament for the Three Lions – has been working in tandem with Terry on the left of Chelsea’ defence since 2006, and the English trio form a ready-made backline (with the addition of either Kyle Walker or Glen Johnson at right-back) that would reap the benefits of playing together week-in-week-out at club level.
On the surface, it seems a no-brainer. Especially considering, in sharp contrast to English footballing heritage, the heart of defence has become the Three Lions’ weakest department since both Terry and Rio Ferdinand stepped down from the international stage. That intrinsic weakness will undoubtedly be exploited by the prolific attacking forces of Uruguay and Italy in England’s Group D, let alone who they may or may not go on to face in the knock-outs.
But in replication of Hodgson’s stance on the issue from last year, the England manager has once again called for the country to move on; “John has retired,” Hodgson said. “As far as I’m concerned that is the situation. We’ve got along without him for [almost] the whole of the [World Cup] qualification, and quite a few friendly matches, and we’ll have to get along without him in the future. As far as I’m concerned retirement is retirement.”
Although that may be a rather unpopular decision with large sections of the English public, who will undoubtedly be asking come the summer why England’s most in-form centre-back, with an unrivalled track record of individual and club honours, has not been issued a plane ticket to Brazil, you can’t argue with Hodgson’s logic.
Since Terry limped off in England’s inaugural World Cup qualifier in Group H against Moldova back in September 2012, Cahill, alongside fellow England centre-halves Phil Jagielka, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, went on to concede just four times in their remaining nine fixtures of the qualifying campaign.
That feat is made less impressive by the fact it was paralleled by Ukraine, and with that in mind, it’s unlikely we’ll see a similar level of defensive dominance in Brazil, especially considering the clear contrast in quality of opposition between San Marino, Moldova and the World Cup hosts for example – or even potential Group D whipping boys Costa Rica.
But nonetheless, these are the defenders, regardless of the limits of their abilities, that got England to the 2014 World Cup and Hodgson is clearly keen to repay the faith. Disloyal may be too harsh a term to describe how the England gaffer could have been perceived for reinstated Terry, but it would certainly have lead to disappointment in some sectors of the England camp considering the contributions Jagielka et al. have already made in the qualifying stages, whilst the Chelsea defender had abstained his services internationally on personal grounds.
Furthermore, of all the intrinsic flaws of the England side that will undoubtedly be exposed in the hot Amazon climate at the World Cup, pretty low down on the list is the competency of our defenders. Cahill and Jagielka may not be cut from the same cloth as the three-time Premier League winner, but that does not automatically make Terry the country’s savour.
Rather, England’s greatest obstacles to overcome are the technical inadequacies of the midfield, and the one-dimensional, undynamic, unpenetrating nature of the our attack. Terry may well be an exceptional defender, but apart from potentially reducing England’s goal deficit in Brazil, he by no means answers the wealth of fundamentally fatal flaws the current Three Lions generation faces.
When FA chief Greg Dyke is compelled to create a commission to resolve the cultural flaws that have rotted English talent for the best part of a decade, the reinstating of a bona fide member of the old guard can surely bring no positive solution.
And with that in mind, Hodgson’s insistence on England to look forward rather than backwards becomes all the more understandable. The Three Lions have the least chance of winning the tournament in Brazil of any World Cup they’ve participated in for more than two decades.
Far from a case of natural English pessimism, the evidence suggesting this is obvious; England have slumped to 15th in the FIFA world rankings, Greg Dyke received news of England’s World Cup group drawing with an ill-humoured throat-cutting gesture, and even Roy Hodgson’s optimism for the competition has been limited to “I refuse to believe we need to be written off” – hardly the biggest vote of confidence to our nation’s chances.
Therefore, with the coming World Cup already a foregone conclusion for the Three Lions – more than anything, it will be a steep learning curve for the likes of Jack Wilshere, Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge and other young members of the England clan breaking through – reinstating Terry for what will be undoubtedly his last international tournament would be an incredibly pointless enterprise in the long-term.
That’s experience at football’s highest level that could propel the England careers Cahill, Jagielka, Smalling and Jones – a far better cause than simply giving the Chelsea defender his one last dance in the international lime light, that pressured to or not, was his decision to leave behind in 2012.
John Terry may well be England’s best defender at this moment in time – in fact, barring last season, he’s been the country’s top centre-back for the better part of a decade – but youth, longevity and building for the future was very much the mandate of Hodgson’s Three Lions appointment, and bringing the Chelsea captain back into the fold goes against every one of those principles.
I’m sure it was a more difficult decision than Hodgson has let on to not issue Terry his first call-up in two years, and come the summer, should the defender become an ever-present member of a title-winning Chelsea cast, his form at club level could well become a source of embarrassment for the England gaffer – based on current performances, the veteran centre-back is a shoe-in for the PFA Team of the Year.
But Hodgson is in the England hot seat to make wise decisions, not popular ones, and for the sake of the national team’s longevity, he’s undoubtedly made the right call.