In soccer the position of captain is regarded as an honor worthy of surpassing respect. That's especially true on national teams, which made last week's news from both sides of the Atlantic all the more surprising. In England, defender John Terry was stripped of his captaincy of the Three Lions after court documents alleged that last fall Terry (a married father of two) had engaged in an affair with the ex-partner of England teammate Wayne Bridge.
Here in America, meanwhile, came the long-awaited answer to a 12-year-old mystery: Why did U.S. World Cup coach Steve Sampson drop captain John Harkes from the team two months before the 1998 World Cup? While discussing the Terry affair on his Fox Soccer Channel show on Feb. 1, U.S. Hall of Fame striker Eric Wynalda revealed that his onetime friend and teammate Harkes had conducted "an inappropriate relationship" with Wynalda's then wife, Amy, in the months before the '98 World Cup, leading to Harkes's removal from the team. (Harkes has denied that an affair took place.)
World Cup '98 is still viewed as a dark period for the U.S. team, which lost all three of its games and collapsed into a dissension-riddled free-for-all, leading to Sampson's firing. While it was commendable that Sampson waited so many years to provide his full rationale, that shouldn't vindicate his poor decision: Sampson could have taken away Harkes's captaincy, managed the situation in the locker room and avoided using the nuclear option on Harkes.
In other words he could have done what England manager Fabio Capello did with Terry last week: Discipline the player, keep him on the squad, give your team its best chance on the field. It might be a strategy to ponder when the U.S. meets England in the World Cup opener on June 12.