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I was part of a successful team that had its fair share of trouble among players, namely the side’s all-action hardman and me
Given the expanding nature of John Terry’s catalogue of “issues”, it wouldn’t surprise me if the weekly task of defending Chelsea’s goal is beginning to get in the way of having to defend himself.
Whether innocent or guilty, Terry has a remarkable knack of leaving both team-mates and opponents in unsavoury and very public situations. Whatever the outcome of the Chelsea captain’s trial for allegedly racially abusing QPR’s Anton Ferdinand, it is safe to assume that the England changing room will, at times over the next few months, become a pretty unbearable place to be. And you could certainly be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that a disjointed changing room, together with the absence of a captain and the resignation of the manager, is an ominous sign for what the rest of us can expect from England at the European Championship this season, especially given the squad’s exceptional record of imploding either just before or during major tournaments. Yet strangely, because of all the animosity and personal grudges, there lies the potential to achieve great things.
Not too long ago I was part of a very successful team that had more than its fair share of resentment among players. One relationship in particular initially gave our manager much cause for concern. It revolved around two of the team’s best players, namely the side’s much hyped all-action hardman, and me.
From day one I never found any common ground with this player. I felt he went quiet when he should have been vocal and was lairy at times when a more subtle approach was required. The biggest obstacle, though, to any kind of reconciliation was the fact that we both harboured gravity-defying egos.
We never came to blows (although we were close once after he tackled me badly in training and I couldn’t quite catch him after getting up and running after him), but we were always very aware of each other’s ability and we used the competitiveness that knowledge provoked to great effect on the pitch, by trying to outrun, outwork and outscore each other at every opportunity. From the outside looking in nobody would ever have known there was a problem. In fact we probably gave a great impersonation of the very essence of teamwork.
And that is by no means a freak occurrence. The football landscape is littered with fractured relationships of players who, on the surface at least, appear to be the best of friends. While waiting to make his debut for England as a replacement for Teddy Sheringham, Andy Cole was so incensed at not receiving some words of encouragement or a handshake from his fellow frontman that the pair became entrenched in a bitter stand-off that, as far as I am aware, still exists to this day.
But football has a habit of throwing up uncomfortable reunions, and as Cole later explained: “In the summer of 1997, after Eric Cantona left Manchester United, Sheringham arrived. We played together for years. We scored a lot of goals. I never spoke a single word to him.” It would be hard to make a case that United suffered as a result.
From time to time a manager will put on a dreaded “team bonding” exercise in a futile attempt to cut through what everyone else sees as nothing more than a petty squabble. On other occasions it might be organised as a last-ditch attempt to arrest a dreadful run of results. Quite how go-karting, high-wire walks, paintballing or, in the case of Phil Brown, talking imaginary women out of jumping off the Humber bridge inspire team spirit is beyond me, although at one casino-themed night I did have the good fortune to see a team-mate I didn’t get on with lose ┬ú15,000 on the turn of a card. It was, in all honestly, a tremendous boost to my morale.
In truth, it isn’t essential that players get on with one another. Of course it can help but passing the time of day is often enough. I’d say that I have never been out for lunch or a drink with two thirds of every squad I have ever been involved in, barring official club engagements. Furthermore, I couldn’t tell you where those same players lived, the name of their wife or girlfriend or how many kids they might have. Conversely, I have also played in teams where it could be argued that some players were too close to each other and so were unable to really deliver a bollocking when the situation called for it.
In the case of Terry, those around him once again find themselves in a position that they’d rather not be. Indeed, if there is one thing that the England team do not need before a major tournament it is the uncomfortable pressures of heightened media scrutiny and that is exactly what will now happen.
Every high-five, handshake, hug, goal celebration or verbal exchange that involves Terry and any other member of the England team or staff will be forensically examined. And if things don’t go well this summer then you can guarantee that one of the players, who only weeks before had spoken of a “united England” while laughing off suggestions from the media of a rift in the camp, will be putting the seal on an autobiography that centres on failure at Euro 2012 while blaming the vibe around Terry for the whole debacle.
With no Fabio Capello, it seems inevitable the Football Association will turn to Harry Redknapp, which can only be a good thing because the Tottenham manager has a track record of improving the fortunes of average teams and getting everyone pulling in the same direction. The FA should pay him whatever he wants.
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