Roy Hodgson: Caught between the Red Devil and the Deep Blue Chelsea

“I did some dumb things and if anyone was hurt by that or offended, obviously I apologise” – Mitt Romney

As apologies go, it wasn’t the best. Just a single day after Barack Obama announced his support for same-sex marriages, the Washington Post broke the story that Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney had orchestrated the homophobic bullying of John Lauber, a fellow pupil at Cranbrook School, when the two were students at the private academy in the early 1960s. The revelation has caused widespread outrage, and was seized upon by the Democrats who branded Romney’s behaviour as “vicious”. For his part, Romney told the press that he had no recollection of the offences, and offered his meagre apology in a radio interview last week.

Romney’s uneasy and awkward apology could not help but make me think of John Terry, and his own poor handling of his dismissal for his needless and violent attack on Alexis Sanchez at the Nou Camp three weeks ago. Initially Terry alleged “Sanchez was darting in behind me” and “I was trying to protect myself”, before video evidence exposed his comments as utter fabrication. The Chelsea defender later apologised for his actions, but with the impending court case over Terry’s alleged racial abuse of Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand looming large in the public eye, the incident did little for his reputation. Though Terry will remain innocent until proven guilty, he has so far defended himself with an authenticity every bit as feeble as Romney’s.

Into this dreadful situation Roy Hodgson now wades, tasked with choosing between Terry and Rio Ferdinand, brother of Anton and, as much of the sporting press have been quick to point out, no saint himself, for a place in England’s twenty-three man squad for this summer’s European Championships. Ferdinand’s own misdemeanours extend to driving and drink-driving offences, an infamous Radio One interview in 2006 that saw him accused of making homophobic comments, and the eight month ban he received for missing a drugs test in 2003. Hodgson is not so much caught between a rock and a hard place, as he is between the red devil and the deep blue Chelsea.

As the dust settles on Hodgson’s appointment it has become clear that this decision is perhaps the biggest test he will face in the role. Yet to speak to either player, whether Hodgson elects to bring Terry, Ferdinand or both could well be the pivot on which his entire tenure is judged. The choice between their respective playing styles could well give us an indication of the direction Hodgson plans to try and steer England in. The selection could also reveal Hodgson’s and even the Football Association’s own insight into the severity of Terry’s legal situation.

There is, of course, a strong case to be made for the inclusion of neither, both ethically and for purely footballing reasons. With Ferdinand’s on going injury concerns, and Terry’s own form nose diving since his expulsion in the Champions League semi-final, neither of the established defensive pair have had a year as impressive as that of Joleon Lescott, who could – and should – complete a title winning campaign tomorrow afternoon. Lescott currently ranks as the second best defender this season in the Premier League’s official Player Performance Index, behind only Patrice Evra. Lescott’s defensive partner Vincent Kompany, who was yesterday chosen as the Premier League Player of Year, ranks one place below the Englishman.

Amongst the likely candidates for a place in the squad, Joleon Lescott also has the highest tackle success percentage in the league, and impressed when he last started for England in the 1-0 win over reigning World and European champions Spain last November. Lescott’s partner in the heart of the defence that day was Everton’s Phil Jagielka, who performed equally well and has had another solid season at Everton. Jagielka’s ability on the ball might make him the stand-out choice to partner the more physical Lescott, whilst Gary Cahill possess similar qualities to Terry, and performed admirably since being introduced into the Chelsea side by caretaker manager Roberto Di Matteo. The versatility of Phil Jones and Micah Richards also makes them attractive options, whilst injury or fitness concerns will see Chris Smalling, Michael Dawson and Ledley King all miss out.

Should Hodgson elect to leave both Terry and Ferdinand at home then it could signal the end of their international careers. Whilst both have, at times, distinguished themselves on the international stage, they both appear to be in decline, and the ill feeling between the two threatens to overshadow England’s preparations for Euro 2012. Hodgson has the experience to know that he is unlikely to gain anything should he try and force the two to reconcile, and will perhaps want to avoid any such distraction, knowing that the likelihood is that things could well descend into a Chisora/Haye-esque PR catastrophe, such is the size of the egos involved.

It is only sensible to reserve judgement of Terry until after the resolution of legal proceedings, and Ferdinand should not be criticised for defending his brother. But the situation is one that benefits nobody involved. The ludicrous decision to move Terry’s trial back to July has not helped. The matter should already have been resolved. Either Terry is guilty and therefore clearly should not be representing his country, or he is acquitted and free to be selected should Hodgson deem him up to scratch. Then the onus would be on Ferdinand to decide whether or not he wants to be involved, with his injury record offering him, or Hodgson, the option of an excuse for leaving him out. Not an ideal scenario sure, but far more palatable than the situation we are in now.

With the squad set to be announced on Wednesday we don’t have long to wait for Hodgson’s decision. Whatever choice he makes, there is no hiding from the fact that this is a dramatically tumultuous time for England. Hodgson, with his decades of experience and no nonsense attitude, may well be the right man to steady the ship, but he still has decide who to cast overboard.

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