For a little piece of black elasticated cloth, the England captain's armband doesn't half cause a lot of problems.
The latest is probably the silliest of the lot and could easily have been avoided if Roy Hodgson, or someone from the Football Association, had just made it clear it boiled down to one thing: Ashley Cole will be captain against the Republic of Ireland, he just doesn't want to talk to you (the media) about it.
Interim captain, you could call it. Or silent captain. The whole thing seems pretty bizarre, not least because his 100th cap is being commemorated on the day he makes his 102nd appearance. Why, Hodgson was asked, had Cole not been offered the armband when he actually joined the 100 club. "That was a qualifying game away from home," he said, referring to the game in Montenegro in March. There was an awkward moment when it was pointed out the century came up against Brazil in February – but no explanation.
No matter. All the faffing around – Hodgson introduced Frank Lampard as his captain in a live Sky interview, then agreed to film a second take after realising the mess it had created – is a bit embarrassing. Cole is not everyone's cup of tea and, between them, the relevant people have opened themselves to a load of "Captain cock-up" headlines. Yet most England fans would probably conclude Cole deserves it on a one-off basis and that there are more pressing matters for this England team than whether the left-back talks to the press. And they would be right.
For Daniel Sturridge in particular, England's first match against Ireland since the abandoned Lansdowne Road fixture in 1995 represents a big moment. Sturridge's five England appearances have come under three managers and until now, all as a substitute. Danny Welbeck is struggling with an injury and Andy Carroll has already pulled out but, even with a full squad, Sturridge deserves his chance alongside Wayne Rooney, after 11 goals in 16 appearances for Liverpool since his £12m move from Chelsea. Sturridge, Hodgson said, had been "an enormous talent" for many years. It is only now, however, he has the opportunity to nail down a starting place for the national team.
Sturridge is certainly coming into this game in a better frame of mind than Rooney and though Hodgson has been reluctant to admit as much, England's manager could be forgiven for having a few concerns about what is currently going on with the Manchester United player. Gary Neville, one of Hodgson's coaches, has already expressed misgivings, saying Rooney has "not been himself over these last couple of months and you can see something is wrong".
Hodgson believes the striker will be "desperate" to show that is not the case. "I can talk only about him when he joins up with me, and how he behaves in our get-togethers, and I find his desire as strong, if not stronger, than when we first met. I have nothing but the greatest faith in him. Good players can have bad games, and bad players can have good games. It's not an exact science. But my faith in Wayne Rooney has never wavered."
As much as anything, Hodgson will be keen to see how a new-look attack combines. "We're seeing all the qualities now [from Sturridge] we've always known he had. He's showing them week after week. He's playing more regularly at Liverpool and growing in confidence. We're hoping he brings us something with his incredible pace and footwork and technical ability to help us win matches."
Ireland, in theory, should be moderate opponents bearing in mind Giovanni Trapattoni's squad features 14 players from the Championship, including four in his starting line-up. That, however, would be the wrong way for England to approach the match. "I've watched the Republic of Ireland play since I was a kid and they amaze you with their work ethic, organisation and desire to win," Lampard said. "We're all very aware of them. As I've known it, they've fostered this spirit since the Jack Charlton days and it's never left."
That attitude might make the occasion more lively than would normally be expected for a game taking place in the time most footballers usually identify for their end-of-season holidays. Hodgson also gave Trapattoni, an old friend, a glowing reference. "His CV is probably the best of any active manager working today. That's sometimes forgotten because he doesn't go out and shout from the rooftops." All the same, if England take the game seriously, it would be a surprise if they do not register a first win against Ireland since Trevor Steven and Gary Lineker scored in a 2-1 win in 1985.
As for the politics surrounding the fixture, Hodgson reiterated his request for none of the "no surrender" chants that have tarnished England matches. Whether the crowd will moderate itself remains to be seen but we probably should not be overly optimistic bearing in mind they could not even observe a minute's silence at their last home game for the Brazil nightclub disaster, plus the anniversaries of the Munich air disaster and Bobby Moore's death. At least Hodgson, in tandem with the FA, has made his feelings clear. A lot clearer, anyway, than the latest in a long line of captaincy issues.
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