Fabio Capello's preparations for Euro 2012 are facing further disruption after it was announced that the England captain, John Terry, is to face criminal charges over an alleged racist slur made towards the Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand.
Terry was visited by police officers at his Surrey home on Wednesday and informed of the decision by the Crown Prosecution Service and has vowed to fight to clear his name. He will be formally charged at a hearing at west London magistrates' court on 1 February. Yet, with proceedings then to be adjourned for trial at a future date, there is a realisation within the national set-up that the issue could potentially drag up to, or even beyond, the summer's tournament in Poland and Ukraine.
Capello was already resigned to being without the suspended Wayne Rooney for the opening two group games of the finals, but is now coming to terms with the reality that the build-up to Euro 2012 could be dominated by the case against Terry. The 31-year-old was reappointed as national captain only in February having been stripped of the honour ahead of the World Cup in 2010 following newspaper allegations surrounding the defender's private life, and controversy is now dogging the defender yet again in the months approaching a major tournament.
England are not due to play again until the friendly against Holland at Wembley on 29 February and Terry, who denies any wrongdoing, does not intend to resign and still hopes to be available to captain his country in that fixture. Last night Umbro, the national team kit manufacturers, who count Terry as one of their clients, used a picture of an England team led by Steven Gerrard on their official website.
Football Association officials held talks in the wake of the CPS announcement, but have understandably not made any public comment for fear of prejudicing the case. Their own inquiries into the incident at Loftus Road on 23 October were well advanced when the police investigation began and are on hold pending the result of the criminal investigation.
Terry will start for Chelsea in Wednesday's Premier League game at Tottenham Hotspur – where stewards will wear headcams and adopt a zero tolerance policy towards any supporters heard using foul, abusive, homophobic or racist language – and retains the full backing of the club's hierarchy. "I don't doubt his integrity as a person," said the manager, André Villas-Boas. "He's been representing this club for a lot of time with tremendous success. He has my full backing. The club have that backing for him, too. We will continue to support him.
"We know exactly his human values and his personality. For me they are never in doubt, so I will support him whatever the outcome. The fact that [he has been charged] doesn't mean he is guilty."
The centre-half had been caught on camera confronting Ferdinand some six minutes from time in Chelsea's 1-0 loss at QPR. The player later released a statement insisting he had merely been repeating an accusation he felt had been made by his opponent. "I am disappointed with the decision to charge me and hope to be given the chance to clear my name as quickly as possible," said Terry on Wednesday night. "I have never aimed a racist remark at anyone and count people from all races and creeds among my closest friends. I will fight tooth and nail to prove my innocence. I have campaigned against racism and believe there is no place for it in society."
If found guilty, Terry would face a maximum fine of £2,500 though there would inevitably be serious implications over his future captaincy of, and potentially involvement with, the national team. Chelsea issued a statement on Wednesday insisting the club "finds all forms of discrimination abhorrent" and remains "fully supportive" of the player, though their stance drew criticism from Lord Herman Ouseley, the chairman of the anti-racism campaign Kick it Out and a former chair of the Commission for Racial Equality.
"It doesn't surprise me, but it does sadden me," said Lord Ouseley. "Clubs, who are large employers, must consider the implications of dealing with allegations made against their players, and not simply offer blanket support without carrying out their own full investigations and being certain of the ground on which they are standing when they offer full support."
Asked whether Terry should continue to be allowed to play for his country before the case is heard, Lord Ouseley added: "That's a big call for the FA. Clearly, the next international is not until 29 February and maybe this will have been disposed of by then so they don't have to make that big call. But I think there is an issue of the morality, of the leadership, the standard we set, the ethics for football."
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