When the final whistle went, relief engulfing players and fans as England finally secured their place in the next round of the World Cup, John Terry stood in the middle of the center circle gesticulating. Soon he was shouting at his team-mates, calling them over. Bit by bit they came, heeding the call, and formed a huddle. Terry stood at the center haranguing them, embracing them, very much the ring leader. A captain.
So far, so good. But Terry is not the captain. He has not been since Fabio Capello, left isolated by the English Football Association, who offered him no guidance and no support, took the armband off him in February and later placed it on Steven Gerrard. And yet Terry was acting like he was. A leader, cajoling, imposing, demanding, ordering.
England had just beaten Slovenia, escaping what was set up to be one of the great humiliations of their footballing history -- the first time they had failed to get out of a World Cup group in 50 years. So delighted were they, so relieved, that most will probably not even have given it a second thought. It is risky to jump to conclusions, unwise to read too much into the scene.
But the scene was striking -- and one or two players did appear a little slow to react. A little reluctant perhaps? It would not have been hugely surprising for them to look across at Terry and wonder: "Who are you to tell us what to do? You're not the captain, John." Especially this week, especially with his failed 'mutiny' providing the backdrop for this game.
For the second time in a few days, Terry was acting like the captain when he's not. For many of his teammates, he's shown he considers himself the team's true leader. Their reaction has suggested he is not. It has suggested that in fact he is becoming a little isolated. Certainly he is not the figure he has become at Chelsea. If his usurping of Gerrard on the Port Elizabeth pitch -- if indeed it should be seen as that -- did not leave teammates uncomfortable this evening, his usurping of him in the press room this week certainly did.
There have clearly been problems in the England camp. Capello's intensity and demands have proven hard for the players to live with. Gigi Buffon once remarked: "It would be nice if Capello lightened up once in a while." England's players would agree. During qualification, the squad met for a matter of days. Impositions were temporary inconveniences. This time, it's a matter of days, weeks, together. Boredom has set in, frustration too, discomfort at the regime.
Poor results and worse performances only exacerbated that. So did Terry's reaction. Footballers, like football fans, have always been moaners, would-be conspirers and shifters of blame. And, of course, the greatest coach there has ever been. Some wanted changes to the team, some to the formation. After the Algeria game, some of them got together and discussed what had happened.
Normally, it's just talk. Terry appears to have considered it more than what it really was, more than just a discussion, more than just a bitching session. Or maybe it was what Terry thought and his partners in crime bottled it? Or maybe the media saw what Terry said as more than it really was?
Terry went into a press conference and demanded changes; he cried freedom. He pleaded for a little liberty, in the form of that old English favorite: the pint. "Flipping hell, let's switch off," he said, "Let's have a beer and switch off." And if it was not granted, he hinted, it was time for a revolution.
He announced there would be a team meeting in which players should have their say. "And" he added, if Capello gets upset, so what?!" He made it clear that he thought Joe Cole should be in the side, insisting he was the "only" player alongside Wayne Rooney that can open up a defense -- something that is bound to have delighted his other teammates.
Worse was the fact that Terry announced he was speaking "on behalf of the team." He had set himself up as the captain. The leader.
Perhaps he had to. When he took over the England team Capello had four candidates for the captaincy: David Beckham, Terry, Rio Ferdinand and Gerrard. He tried all of them in like a kind of casting session and eventually chose Terry. Terry is almost a caricature of the British bulldog, a blood and guts leader. The clichés about trench warfare fitted him perfectly. The Guardian newspaper invariably referred to him, tongue in cheek, as EBJT: England's Brave John Terry.
But revelations about Terry's relationship with Wayne Bridge's girlfriend forced Capello's hand -- never mind the infidelity to his wife, a crime few seemed to have problems with, Terry had been unfaithful to a friend and a teammate. Ferdinand would be the new captain. Then he got injured. Beckham already was injured. The armband passed to Gerrard. He should have been the man at the heart of the England team but it is no secret that he is not a leader -- at least not in the England mold. He could hardly be more different to Terry.
Terry by his own admission thinks "nothing has changed" since he lost the armband. Perhaps it should have, perhaps he should have taken a step back. His attitude has, some observe, inhibited Gerrard. Meanwhile, underlying his grievances was bitterness at losing the armband.
This week, Terry seemed to think he could lead and others would follow. In the press conference, he said he had been talking to Rooney, Gerrard "and a few others." Now, he was saying that he came "on behalf of the team." He was their spokesman, their leader, their general. A trades union leader and shop steward, speaking out against injustices, righting wrongs. He was speaking for all of them.
Trouble was, he wasn't. And as for injustices, most people had no sympathy -- most thought him a fool. So they couldn't have a drink and had to eat bland, fat-free foods? So they had to be in bed by 11? It was hardly a case for Amnesty International.
Terry had certainly been a fool this time. He certainly misjudged the moment. Capello called it a "big mistake." He appeared to be announcing a coup, backed by his loyal soldiers but he wasn't backed by them. He said he was speaking in name of the team but the team did not seem to agree and did not want him speaking for them. Soon, the players he had named were distancing themselves from his outburst.
In any case, by announcing the 'coup' in advance (if that's what it was), Terry simply enabled the England staff to head him off at the bridge. That night there was a meeting but Terry, warned not to cause trouble, was silent. The coup was still born. Maybe it never existed, maybe he had just got a bit carried away in the press conference. Either way, England's Brave John Terry had been caught out. He might be a captain but he is not much of a strategist.
It has been a surreal week, but England carried on regardless. So too did Terry.