England's stuttering World Cup campaign was thrown into further disarray yesterday when an attempted challenge by John Terry on Fabio Capello's authority was met with an angry backlash by the former captain's team-mates.
Terry, who was sacked by Capello as captain in February, promised in his press conference yesterday that he would challenge his manager in last night's crucial team meeting and said that he did not care if he "upset" the Italian. But his comments at the press conference, which were watched live by England players on television prompted derision and disbelief among the squad.
Apparently emboldened by the weakness of Capello's position after draws against the United States and Algeria, Terry, who was sacked as captain in February over the Vanessa Perroncel scandal, said that he was ready for a no-holds-barred team meeting at the team's Royal Bafokeng base. He said: "If it upsets him [Capello] then I'm on the verge of just saying: 'You know what? So what? I'm here to win it for England.'"
Having positioned himself earlier in the day as the man to take on Capello at all costs and claiming that he would challenge him over tactics when the meeting took place, The London Independent reported that Terry said nothing to the manager last night. He was forewarned by Capello's coaching staff that it would not go down well.
Capello's staff and many of his senior players were astonished that, three days ahead of the crunch game with Slovenia, Terry had put himself up as their leader and the man to challenge the manager. There are misgivings among the players about the boredom they endure spending enforced periods "resting" in their rooms but they do not believe that Terry has the right to become their unofficial spokesman.
Many of them also privately noted that Terry had been disruptive himself in recent weeks. There was also disquiet that Terry had made public the fact that the players were allowed to have a beer in their hotel after the Algeria game – given that it was a private moment and could be misinterpreted by an already disillusioned English football public.
Terry said: "We've got a meeting [last night] to watch the game and see where we went wrong. As a group of players, we owe it to ourselves and to everyone in the country that, if we feel there's a problem, there's no point in keeping it in. If we have an argument with the manager and it upsets him – us expressing our opinions – everyone needs to get it off his chest. That's exactly what we'll do."
Later he said again that he was going to tell Capello where he was going wrong. "We are in a meeting with the manager, whether he starts it or finishes it, the players can say how they feel and if it upsets him then I'm on the verge of just saying: 'You know what? So what? I'm here to win it for England. He's feeling the same, the players are feeling the same and if we can't be honest with each other then there's no point in us being here."
Terry also said that he had been instrumental in persuading Capello and his key assistant Franco Baldini, the team's general manager, to relax one of their main rules after the Algeria game and allow the players to drink alcohol. Terry presented himself as the prime mover in forcing Capello and Baldini to back down.
Terry said: "I don't want to say it was me but I went to see Franco after the game and said 'Look, let everyone have a beer and speak to the manager. Flipping hell, let's just switch off'. We did. It was nice to see that side of the manager. Obviously it was his birthday. He was sitting there with a bottle of red wine with the staff and it was nice."
He added: "There was me, Lamps [Lampard], Wazza [Rooney], Aaron Lennon, Jamo [James], Crouchy, Jonno [Johnson], Jamie Carragher, Stevie [Gerrard], probably a couple more. The staff were there. They were having a glass of wine and the medical team, who obviously work very hard as well, and everyone was just sort of unwinding, which was nice."
"Since we have been here I know me and other lads have been to him [Capello] and Franco and asked for certain things. Sometimes it is a 'Yes', sometimes it is a 'No'. More football than anything else. [At the meeting] if we see anything that needs to be changed we will go and do our job whether he says 'Yes' or 'No'. It is down to the manager at the end of the day and he will make the final decision."
There are understood to be concerns that Terry's behaviour within the camp has been disruptive over the World Cup campaign. He has had differences of opinion on the training ground with members of Capello's staff.
Much of Terry's frustration seems to be connected to a misunderstanding on his part when he was sacked by Capello as captain in February that led him to believe that he could one day get the job back. He was understood to be furious when Capello named Steven Gerrard as the replacement for the injured Rio Ferdinand this month.