John Terry's International Retirement Good For England, And Him

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By retiring from international football John Terry has done the right thing, at the wrong time for the wrong reasons.

Retiring from international football, John Terry has added another story to an already formidable oeuvre. Having been sacked as captain, twice, Terry has called time on an England career with lots of peculiar lows and few highs. Facing an FA hearing this afternoon, Terry has fallen on the sword that previously did for Wayne Bridge, Fabio Capello and Rio Ferdinand. He's done the right thing for England, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons (for him, it's all good).

The right thing, Part I: Terry has mostly been a good player for England over a largely inglorious period. And he's good at singing the national anthem. In footballing terms, though, it's hard to imagine that England will greatly suffer in the absence of their erstwhile leader; Terry is 31 and has played in four major tournaments: it is someone else's turn anyway. In that sense, then, even before questions of tenability, Terry is right to quit.

The right thing, Part II: the FA has, reputedly*, a 99.5% conviction rate in cases heard, as Terry's will be, by independent panel. This means that, probably, he will be found guilty and receive a reputation damaging ban. Were that to happen it would (again) raise (more) questions about his international career. By quitting, Terry has saved Roy Hodgson and his former England colleagues a degree of soul searching (and the rest of us have been spared a lot of sets of words like this one). And that is a good thing.

* This figure, being passed around all over the place - including, now, here, seems strange. It means that of 200 cases, 199 have resulted in convictions. That seems like an awfully high number and recalls Mark Twain's remarks on statistics. So, maybe, we should translate 99.5% as ‘almost all'.

The wrong time: Terry says that his position has become untenable. He is right. It has been untenable, though, for a long time. Rio Ferdinand missed the European Championships in mysterious circumstances decried by anti-racism campaigners. That was unpleasant at best, and suggestive of institutional racism at worst. Either way, decision makers clearly felt that the Ferdinand-Terry axis was no longer tenable. Rather than belated acknowledgement of this, Terry's statement points to a more personal untenability: "the FA, in pursuing charges against me where I have already been cleared in a court of law, have made my position with the national team untenable". It is not clear why it has taken Terry so long to acknowledge this, the situation was no different last night than it was when he last played for England, against Moldova, two weeks ago.

The wrong reasons, Part I: this is not the FA's fault! Many things in football, total deregulation of ticket prices, absolute abdication of governance, sexism, are absolutely the fault of the suits. But this isn't; after the Luis Suarez precendent, the FA has to act against Terry.

The wrong reasons, Part II: Terry's statement is a selective version of events. The word "cleared", for example, is tricksy since what actually happened is that he was found "not guilty"; the charges, then, were not wiped, as Terry's statement suggests. Chief magistrate Howard Riddle's words, "there being a doubt, the only verdict the court canrecord is one of not guilty", illustrate the gap that the FA hearing will fill later today.

The wrong reasons, Part III: obviously it is naïve, at this stage, to expect humility from Terry but the man has a very singular view of causation. Probably he has made his position untenable (again), but even if not, even if he's found not guilty (which I, Terry, and Terry's lawyers, think is unlikely), blaming the FA is absurd. Such is their exemplary record of ostrichery that it's certain that they wish absolutely and only that this hadn't happened. It is not their fault.

Terry has done the right thing, but not the decent thing. By stepping down he removes a problem; by refusing to take responsibility, he perpetuates one. In retirement Terry exists as a sort of living martyr. His statement leaves the space for him to return as hero to emerge from this, somehow, as the bigger man.

England's brave John Terry has done the right thing, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons for England. In contrast, the reasons and the timing are right for Chelsea's brave John Terry.

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