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John Terry has packed a bunch of indiscretions into the 12 years of his professional career and English soccer has forgiven him at every turn.
When, on the day after the 9/11 attacks, Terry and a group of Chelsea players offended a party of grieving American tourists at a London hotel with their lewd and drunken antics, it was quickly forgotten.
When he urinated in a beer glass at a nightclub the following year, then dropped it on the floor, few batted an eyelid.
And even when Terry's litany of personal infidelities – which allegedly includes cheating on his wife with at least nine women including a porn star, a topless model and a 17-year-old – was made public, there was never a suggestion that he was not a fit and proper man to lead both his club and country.
However, the latest Terry story making headlines is different.
Just over four months out from the start of the World Cup, Terry stands accused of illicit liaisons with Vanessa Perroncel, the girlfriend of former Chelsea colleague and current England teammate Wayne Bridge. Terry also reportedly arranged Perroncel to have an abortion and gave her money to "cheer herself up."
All around England, the public has finally found its disapproving voice. "What's that, you say? A teammate?"
Two years ago when he took over as England head coach, Fabio Capello chose to keep Terry as England captain, letting him stay on at the expense of Rio Ferdinand and Steven Gerrard. A primary reason was because Terry seemed to have a typical English quality about him, one of resilience and hard work.
How Capello must wish he could turn back the clock.
The Italian must and probably will act quickly to remove Terry from his post as England captain, but he will certainly keep Terry in his squad and starting lineup. The 29-year-old remains one of the world's most accomplished and fearless defenders and has been a fine leader of his national team on the field. Yet that leadership required the backing of every member of the squad, and there are no longer any guarantees that will be the case.
So it is time for Capello to move on and look for another figurehead, most likely Gerrard or the fast-improving and maturing Wayne Rooney.
Many are suggesting that this latest folly from Terry is the final straw, but that fails to adequately capture this situation. Rightly or wrongly, Terry could have carried on behaving as boorishly as he chose away from soccer circles and the public, and probably Capello, would have cared little.
England does not always employ as stringent a moral compass to its sports celebrities as in the United States. When David Beckham allegedly slept with his assistant Rebecca Loos in 2004, his popularity and marketability weren't as damaged as the consequences suffered by the serially promiscuous Tiger Woods. In England, he who cheats is clearly not a very good person, but it doesn't stop him from being a good captain. Or so the perception goes.
Terry, though, crossed a sacred boundary that may never be forgiven. Namely, he has allowed his antics to interfere with the balance of the England national team – and in a World Cup year no less.
England is used to biting its nails and holding its breath in the lead-up to World Cups. In 2002, it prayed for the swift healing of Beckham's metatarsal, and Rooney's foot got the same revered scrutiny four years later. But this wound is self-inflicted and has swiftly served to dampen spirits at a time when hopes were burgeoning under Capello, the strict taskmaster who has so far ruled with something of an iron fist.
Capello will not take kindly to one man, and one issue, threatening to overshadow preparations for the tournament in South Africa. That is why Terry's punishment should be decisive and immediate.
Another form of justice will be meted out by fans at countless English Premier League grounds over the coming months. Terry will be singled out for boos and taunts wherever he goes on the road. Burnley supporters got the ball rolling right away Saturday with a double-entendre chant of "Same old Terry, always cheating" sung vigorously every time he appeared to commit a foul in Chelsea's 2-1 victory.
Terry is finding out that in England, for a soccer player at least, cheating on your wife is less of a crime than destabilizing your national team. Sadly, the fall guy in all of this could be Bridge, who is now separated from Perroncel.
The left back moved from Chelsea to Manchester City last year and is on the fringes of the England squad. With Terry a certainty to be selected, Capello may sense there is little to be gained by having both men in close proximity at the World Cup. The coach knows already that such a decision will be one of his most critical, and he will be furious to have had his hand forced in such a way.
These are troubled times for England and as the primary cause, it must be Terry who pays the biggest price by having his captain's armband ripped away.
Weekend Best XI
1. Get him an Advil
Alberto Zaccheroni faces a torrid task after replacing Ciro Ferrara as Juventus head coach until the end of the season. Zaccheroni has a world-class squad of players to call upon, but he inherited a group mired in negativity and devoid of confidence. That mentality was on display again on Sunday as Juve managed only a 1-1 draw with Lazio despite having plenty of chances to kill off the game.
2. Get him a beer
Wayne Rooney's spectacular season continued on Sunday, as he spearheaded Manchester United to a resounding 3-1 victory that may have hastened the end of Arsenal's EPL title hopes. The in-form Rooney has an entire English nation praying he stays healthy – and it is no surprise that Real Madrid continues to sniff around.
3. Get him some earplugs
Issa Hayatou, president of the Confederation of African Football, needs to brace himself for a bitter worldwide backlash. Hayatou endorsed the mind-boggling and ludicrous decision to ban Togo from the next two African Cup of Nations tournaments for failing to play in this year's competition. The Togo team bus was attacked by terrorists, leading to two deaths.
4. Keep an eye on …
Eddie Johnson and Freddy Adu are both on what appears to be an impossible mission, as they seek to force their way into the United States squad for the World Cup. Both men are on loan at Greek side Aris, which got a consolation goal from Johnson thanks to an Adu assist in a 2-1 defeat to Xanthi.
5. Catch a flight to …
Liverpool. Catch up with another American duo, Landon Donovan and Tim Howard, as they head to Anfield for what promises to be a fiercely contested Merseyside derby. Donovan has been a revelation during his loan spell and Howard is as consistent as ever, and the pair will be looking to add to Liverpool's recent misery.
6. Useless and completely made up statistic of the week
2 – The number of times the commentator glanced at his thesaurus in search of a different word while calling this spectacular assist from Real Madrid's Guti. Real went on to beat Deportivo La Coruna 3-1, ending a 19-year winless drought at the Riazor Stadium.
7. Fond farewell
The African Cup of Nations is done and dusted with Egypt downing Ghana 1-0 in Sunday's final to win the tournament for a record seventh time. The standard of play shown by the Egyptians throughout the contest was outstanding, making its persistent failure to qualify for World Cups all the more puzzling.
8. Get ready to say hello to …
Freddie Ljungberg. The Seattle Sounders standout missed the first week of training camp and was considering offers from various European clubs. However, he will return to the Pacific Northwest on Feb. 11 and insisted he is committed to seeing out his Sounders contract.
9. Get ready to say goodbye to …
Major League Soccer? Well, maybe not just yet, but there are nervous times all around with negotiations between the league and the players union over a new collective bargaining agreement still not fixed. A work stoppage could not come at a worse time for MLS, and recovering from one would take years.
10. Get excited about …
Soccer's worldwide pull shows no sign of abating, with viewing figures for 2009 revealing that the UEFA Champions League final had outstripped the Super Bowl in terms of overall worldwide audience for the first time ever.
11. Why it's good to be a soccer player
Because it might help you snag a girlfriend like Vanessa Perroncel. Just be sure to keep her away from your teammates.