Silence signals acceptance
So John Terry eventually holds his hands up and says it’s a fair cop – as opposed to the unfair “pleb” who the ultimately disgraced MP Andrew Mitchell ran into. The former captain of England and one of its most famous footballing sons is guilty of using racist language. A journey to justice that took longer than the “Empire Windrush” to get to its final destination.
But is the story over yet? Jason Roberts, Rio Ferdinand and more than a few others appeared to decide at the weekend that the punishment did not fit the crime. Fortunately, Rio and his brother Anton, the originally aggrieved party, seemed to seek a sort of closure in a joint statement last night; unfortunately for Terry, I suspect that the saga will stain his career long after it ends.
But this article is not about Terry. It’s about his team-mates. They are playing in a team with a player who is as talented as he is distracting. Chelsea Football Club is not often mentioned without the latest speculation over Terry’s future or his most recent run-in with authority.
Ashley Cole has sided with JT. Who else is guilty by association? I don’t know. But one thing I do know is that the dressing-room cannot be harmonious. Wouldn’t you be pissed off with a significant and integral player in the team continuously finding himself in the news for all the wrong reasons? But there’s also the added dilemma that Terry is a big fish and probably not the guy who you would want to fall out with if you are Saturday team-mates.
In teams, when someone breaks a moral code or moves outside of its framework, you usually find that they are brought back in line, either directly or by being excluded from the team environment. The only problem is that you can’t imagine either of those things happening to Terry.
Instead, what happens is that small pockets of team members – who don’t wish to speak out – will whisper, joke and snipe together … doesn’t sound much like a team to me, more like a group.
Now don’t get me wrong. You don’t need to like everyone you work with. In fact, as a psychologist, I know that some of the strongest teams actually have high levels of conflict. It can be healthy to have teams made up of people who have very different views and beliefs.
Yet let’s be frank about it … racism is a “biggy”. Conflict in teams is useful when you have to debate or determine strategy or direction as a team of people, such as in the business environment. However, in a football team, it is not so much about sharing ideas and values.
It’s about winning. It’s about playing for each other and being committed to the same cause. It is about being a winner, who helps to create other winners. This mindset is difficult to achieve when you don’t quite feel the same about each other when it comes to two of the most important aspects of teamworking – trust and respect.
This unpleasant episode will continue and Roberto Di Matteo, the Chelsea manager, will also continue to earn his corn. He must keep all eyes focused on short-term goals to ensure direction and intensity and possibly even set new measurables or training routines based on working together.
Di Matteo must pull Terry aside and ensure that the captain knows his role in winning over some of the players who, by now, have surely had enough. Whether Terry has the skills to achieve this – or the inclination to do so – is another matter.
Already, though, he has been wearing an armband – indicating that he was the Chelsea captain and also promoting Uefa’s “Unite Against Racism” campaign – in Chelsea’s 2-1 defeat against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League in Ukraine on Tuesday night. It was exactly one year to the day since the incident with Anton Ferdinand at Loftus Road, involving racist abuse, that led to Terry having to currently serve a four-match domestic ban.
For me, that armband sits extremely awkwardly.