Rio’s captaincy makes history

by William Abbs

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

The press coverage afforded to John Terry’s ignominious relinquishment of the England captaincy last week has been so overwhelming that, amidst it all, the significance of Fabio Capello’s decision to give the armband to Rio Ferdinand has largely been overlooked. The Manchester United defender has captained England in the past, but his permanent appointment in the role means that, for the first time in the history of English football, a player with Afro-Caribbean ancestry (Ferdinand’s father is from St Lucia) will be recognised, conclusively, as the leader of the national side. Ferdinand’s ownership of the armband comes seventeen years after Paul Ince became the first black footballer to captain England, in a friendly against the United States.

Ferdinand has profited from the self-inflicted misfortune of John Terry, who cashed in his dignity the moment he began an affair with Wayne Bridge’s ex-fiancée. When Terry’s transgression became public knowledge, the dignity of the England captaincy itself came under scrutiny. If Terry had been permitted to retain his position by Capello following the pair’s twelve-minute meeting last Friday, then the Italian might as well have tossed the captain one of the garters that Vanessa Perroncel models to wear around his arm against Egypt next month; it’s all the armband would have symbolised.

Thankfully, Capello saw that, in betraying the trust of a friend and a teammate, Terry’s professionalism had been compromised as well as his reputation. While it is by no means commendable for any England captain to cheat on his wife, that offence alone would not be enough for him to be removed from the role. Taking up with a colleague’s ex, however, jeopardised Terry’s standing in the eyes of the whole squad, let alone Bridge himself. He would not have been able to lead a group of men who did not respect him.

For as long as there are still details of John Terry’s private life for the papers to trumpet, then, perhaps the relative indifference with which they have reacted to the appointment of the new captain is to be expected. If this is the case, it is actually a reassuring sign that, while sex might still sell newspapers, the British are no longer so concerned with issues of ethnicity in sport as they once were. Nonetheless, while Ferdinand’s ascent to the role of England captain represents the pinnacle of an international career that began in 1997, the momentous nature of his appointment on a wider level should not be forgotten. Injury-permitting, England will have a multi-racial captain in, of all places, South Africa this summer, and Ferdinand has the opportunity to fulfil the legacy started by Viv Anderson, who, in 1978, became the first black player to represent England in a competitive game.

Ferdinand, it is true, has had his own indiscretions during his career. He has a number of driving convictions, while the eight-month ban that he served in 2004 for missing a drug test remains a regrettable period in his life. Although now married with two children, in his bachelor days Ferdinand was not shy of enjoying the carnal life of the professional footballer – not less videotaping it. However, as a product of West Ham’s famed youth system, and as a defender blessed with excellent timing and composure on the ball, the new captain does, at least, have two obvious things in common with Bobby Moore. A third similarity between the two men could, we all hope, emerge on 11th July.

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  • dexylongshot

    Let’s hope so!

  • Paul

    Ashkey cole out for 3 months, Ferdinand out of form, glen Johnson out for another 2 months & jt has finally gone mad.

    Don’t b afraid, b very afraid!

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