If any player should know the score when it comes to the importance of an effective PR campaign, its John Terry. The Chelsea skipper has had more negative press than any player in my lifetime, and the vast majority of it is unfortunately of his own making. I fear his latest misdemeanour may prove fatal for his career as an England player, and certainly for his prospects of ever captaining his country again.
Despite his experience in sweeping dirt under the carpet, his initial reaction - the plea of innocence - was the wrong one if he wished to regain some semblance of credibility with the football loving British public. Once he'd seen the video replay of the incident when he raised his knee into Alexis Sanchez's backside (to playground cries of "dead leg!" from a few of my acquaintances on Twitter), he realised he was backed into a corner with no room to wriggle. The post match interview with Sky Sports' Geoff Shreeves was largely apologetic as a result, though there was a brief plea for mitigation, on the grounds he was only trying to protect himself from Sanchez who was, apparently, "running in behind" Terry. Unless my eyes were mistaken, Sanchez was stood in front of Terry relatively motionless and there was certainly no physical threat to Terry evident. Apart from that ridiculous notion, his interview with Shreeves was sensibly articulated, trying to divert the focus of attention from his indiscretion to the heroic efforts of his team mates and the fact that the achievement was just reward for everyone involved with Chelsea Football Club. No doubt that will remain the party line, and I expect Terry will now be shielded from the media in an attempt to take the sting out of the situation.
Terry clearly has a dark side that he struggles to contain despite, I suspect, having been urged to remain on the straight and narrow by trusted advisors and having had the support of a highly astute public relations team. Terry's behaviour was ultimately the primary reason for Fabio Capello's resignation. Love Capello or hate him, with the exception of the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa, his managerial record suggests he was worthy of that position. I don't think anyone can seriously suggest the current situation with Stuart Pearce as Caretaker England Manager and confusion reigning over whether or not he will remain so for the European Championships which start in just over 6 weeks' time is preferable to Capello having remained in the hot seat. That's not all Terry's fault but the situation arose because of him and his inability to behave in a manner befitting a footballing role model, a position that goes with the territory whether he wanted it or not. His affair with mother of his former club team mate Wayne Bridge's child and allegations of racial abuse towards QPR's Anton Ferdinand just add to a profile that is tainted by far too many suggestions of seriously bad behaviour.
So the moral judgement on Terry is damning, but what about judgement purely and simply based on his performances on the pitch? The last year, possibly even the last two, have highlighted weaknesses in Terry's game and it appeared that a slow, continued decline in his performances was inevitable as father time started to catch up with Terry. This was also perhaps amplified by the emergence of younger, more athletic pretenders to his crown like Phil Jones and Chris Smalling. A distinct lack of pace appeared to be his achilles heel and the rot started to set as Chelsea's performances also suffered - no coincidence.
But Terry, the man who crosses the white line, has demonstrated the kind of resilience that winners find in the face of adversity and criticism. Time and again he led from the front as Chelsea, if not keeping pace with Manchester United, maintained their position as one of England's top 4, despite showing precious little in the way of cohesive attacking flair. Terry's performances have at times relied on old fashioned grit and a willingness to block the opposition's attacking play by whatever means necessary, but he has improved technically with age. His instincts for reading the game have improved so that he arrives in areas where the opposition look to attack before his attacking opponents do. He stays on his feet much more these days and only goes to ground when absolutely necessary. Not content with being a typically robust centre back of a very English nature ie a bloodied Terry Butcher or a fist pumping Tony Adams, his willingness to get on the ball and pass it out of defence or even receive it whilst under pressure and look to play has developed under the influence of the likes of Andre Villas-Boas. This may not be unusual in an era when the top English sides have gradually looked to emulate their continental rivals by demanding that even the most robust of defenders look to provide more when in possession than a Peter Kay-esque "have it" whack towards the opponents' goal. However, it's clear that Terry's ability to pass the ball out of defence with either foot and the accuracy of that passing has helped Chelsea to retain possession for longer periods and add more fluency to their attacks.
In addition to his improved personal performances, he has also maintained and developed his qualities as a leader. When Terry plays, Chelsea look organised and hungry. When he doesn't, a cohesive defensive shape is rarely evident, and some of Chelsea's less driven stars can often be observed taking a breather or neglecting their responsibilities without their leader there to remind them of their duties. In the same way that Manchester United's most impressive spells as a defensive unit occur when Nemanja Vidic plays, providing the more robust edge to complement Rio Ferdinand's undoubted ability as a ball playing centre back, Chelsea too are a very different proposition with Mr Terry in the side.
So, I'm clearly gonna pick JT first on the team sheet right?
Based solely on his performances on the pitch, almost definitely. But what about the impact his bad behaviour has on the team? How does a young kid coming into the Chelsea first team feel about sitting next to his captain who's about to go to court yet again and be on the front instead of the back pages of tomorrow's papers? How did one of Terry's more experienced England team mates feel about the fact the married Terry was more than just a little cosy with the mother of his child? How does a team mate who perhaps suffers racial abuse from opposition fans feel about the support his skipper can provide him in his hour of need?
Let's be clear, all this and much more has gone on behind the closed doors of top football clubs for years and will continue to do so. Let's not kid ourselves or get too precious about that.
The key question though is, do the positives outweigh the negatives and therefore justify Terry's inclusion as captain of his club, and even more pertinent for non-Chelsea fans, his country. As a manager, sometimes you might wish to have a player in your side but decide against bringing him to the club because he upsets the balance in the dressing room to the extent that focus on football and achieving success as a team is diluted because of "noise" around that player.
Even considering all that, I might still have felt Terry could justify the decision to give him the armband for club and country, until Tuesday. That was the straw that broke the camel's back for me. His team mates pulled saved his bacon and pulled together for the cause in heroic fashion at the Nou Camp after a mindless act from their skipper. If they'd gone on to lose, the finger would quite rightly have been pointed at him. Maybe it actually galvanised Chelsea to play better without him, I don't know.
His rush of blood wasn't just that - it was evidence that a more sinister character lies beneath, a character that Terry has largely managed to keep hidden when he's crossed the white line. The mindless decision to try and "do" Alexis Sanchez on Tuesday was not a decision, it was instinct. And if he can't stop himself in a Champions' League semi final against Barcelona, then I can't believe it won't happen again, perhaps in an England shirt.
Footballers are like ships passing in the night as one very experienced team mate of mine once said. Great teams can have players who don't even like each other within their ranks, but when one rotten apple has responsibility for leading the side, maybe its just not worth the hassle.
I rate the player, I really do. But the man himself is not someone I think Chelsea or England can trust. I hope he proves me wrong.