• Senior players unhappy with former captain's outburst
• Squad demands recall of Joe Cole in crisis meeting
Fabio Capello moved to reassert complete control over the England set-up last night after successfully deflecting a proposed challenge to his authority by disgruntled players at a scheduled team meeting.
The former captain John Terry suggested the time had come for the players to speak their mind after a stuttering start to the side's World Cup campaign but ended up in danger of being left isolated within the England camp after senior team-mates reacted with dismay to him going public with their desire for a clear-the-air meeting with the manager.
Terry was eventually persuaded against speaking at the meeting by a member of Capello's coaching staff and with no guarantee that other players would fall in line behind him, even though they had agreed in principle with the need to air their opinions. The manager nevertheless made some nominal concessions to appease his squad. There were suggestions last night those could include abandoning his controversial policy of informing the players of his line-up only two hours before kick-off, though that would represent a radical change of policy.
Capello also expressed a willingness to enter into more dialogue with his squad but, while player power appears to have been largely nullified, Terry's earlier comments had served to expose the tension within the England set-up. Frustration has mounted after successive draws left them needing to beat Slovenia on Wednesday to avoid elimination at the group stage of the World Cup for the first time since 1958.
The 29-year-old had faced the media yesterday "on behalf of the team" and suggested he would head a group of players in expressing their concerns to the manager in the evening's get-together at the side's hotel at Royal Bafokeng. "The players can say how they feel and, if it upsets him, then I'm on the verge of just saying: 'You know what? So what?'" said Terry. "If we can't be honest with each other, then there's no point us being here."
The players had been keen to let Capello know their grievances but an uneasiness surfaced within the squad that Terry's outburst had gone too far. Terry had hoped a meeting would have a similar effect to that in 1990 when a delegation of senior players including Bryan Robson, Gary Lineker and Peter Shilton had urged Bobby Robson to switch from 4-4-2 to 3-5-2 after the opening draw against the Republic of Ireland. "We owe it to ourselves and to everyone in the country that, if we feel there's a problem, there's no point in keeping it in," Terry had said. "If I say something tonight, and I probably will and a few others will, then I'm doing the best for England.
"With previous managers, I've stood up and others have done the same. It's not one of those things where the manager calls the shots and that's it. People have got this picture of him where you can't say stuff in meetings. We have a responsibility to ourselves, to the manager and everyone else to voice an opinion and hope he takes it on board."
Terry had rejected Capello's notion that the side was gripped by anxiety. "That's a little bit insulting, because we are not," he said. Yet he admitted they had needed to relax in the wake of Friday's draw. "I don't want to say it was me but I went to see [the general manager] Franco Baldini after the game and said: 'Look, let everyone have a beer and speak to the manager. Flippin' hell, let's just switch off.'
"We did. The manager was sitting there with a bottle of red wine and his staff. It was more relaxed from him and us. For the first time since the manager has taken over we sat there and he let us have a beer. Seven or eight players sat there talking about the game. It was good to get things off our chest and express how we felt. The discussions between the players will stay private, but it was really nice to unwind. That togetherness has been missing maybe at times.. There was me, Lamps, Wazza, Aaron Lennon, Jamo, Crouchy, Johnno, Jamie Carragher, Stevie, probably a couple more. I’ll probably get in trouble for saying this.’
The suggestion of a weight of support behind Cole within the squad was fuelled by Terry's assertion that "only he and Wayne can open up defences" in the current set-up, though Capello has made it clear he will not concede ground to player power.
"It's the manager's decision," added Terry. "Listen, Joe is one of the best players in our country. He has come back from an injury and showed great form for Chelsea. It still amazes me how the club have come to the conclusion of letting Joe go. That is another story but he can surely do things whether he starts or comes on for England."