Keith Hickey: John Terry's international retirement came when it best served John Terry

Jumping before he was pushed, international retirement is too little, too late for the disgraced former England captain.
John Terry’s international career is over. After 10 years, 81 caps, four major tournaments, and three separate stints as England Captain (and you’d better believe that capitalization is intentional), John Terry, the fighter, the die-hard, the man who in May vowed never to turn his back on England, and perhaps the most English player of them all, has walked away from the role he cherished above all else: England hero.

And he has done so on his own terms, only stepping down after sacrificing his nation’s dignity in the pursuit of his personal glory.

Had he announced his international retirement at the beginning of the summer, Terry could have retained a thin shred of dignity, sacrificing his international career for the sake of the team. He could have spared new England manager Roy Hodgson the embarrassing public dilemma of choosing between Rio Ferdinand, a fading force at 33 despite a glittering career as one of the finest defenders of his generation, or England’s best central defender, the man accused of racially abusing Ferdinand’s brother.

Instead, Terry was determined to have one more shot at glory, one more crack at being the hero. In his own mind, surely, he saw himself as the inevitable subject of an iconic photograph, hoisting the Henri Delaunay trophy aloft at Euro 2012, finally basking in the universal adoration that is his due, all sins forgiven, the black marks on his reputation bleached white by the bright sun of his individual brilliance, won through the sheer force of his iron will.

Because this is how Terry wants to be remembered: as a great champion of the English game. If football is the collective sport, John Terry is the game’s least collective player, a throwback to Corinthian heroes who thought it unmanly to pass the ball when you could dribble at a man. He is a heroic figure, the physical embodiment of a last-ditch tackle through drizzly mud. John Terry is a modern day Edward I, tall and imposing on the battlefield as he puts the Scots to the sword. He is an England player in the fullest sense of the phrase, a player who elevates his considerable skill with superhuman effort and fight in his belly, a player in mold of Bryan Robson or Terry Butcher, blood spraying from his brain as he wins headers with Dunkirk spirit.

He needs to be John Terry, the loudest roaring English lion. John Terry, fighter of fights and leader of men and hero of the people. John Terry, hoister of trophies. It was this very need which caused him to dress in full kit, shin pads and all, to celebrate winning a Champions League title which had little to do with him.

In July, Westminster Magistrates' Court cleared Terry of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand in last October’s meeting between Chelsea and QPR, saying his words could not be proven to have been used in the context Ferdinand claimed they were.

Terry and his legal team claimed a triumph, clear as any of Terry’s many sporting accolades, that justice had been served, and that his good name had been cleared. "The court has today acquitted John Terry of all charges,” said Dan Morrison, Terry’s lawyer. "He did not racially abuse Anton Ferdinand, and the court has accepted this."

In reality, the court found Terry’s explanation to be “under the cold light of forensic examination, unlikely. It is not the most obvious response. It is sandwiched between other undoubted insults.”

The Football Association, which requires a lesser burden of proof than a criminal court, did not clear Terry, instead slapping the Chelsea skipper with a four-match ban and a 220,000-pound fine this week.

They did not have the option to remove Terry from the national-team setup. He made that decision himself. His retirement is not an apology, not an acknowledgment of his guilt. His retirement is about his own pride. For Terry, it was not his actions, but the Football Association's investigation into them, which made his position untenable.

It’s unlikely to make any difference to Terry’s legacy. For his blue-tinted base of support, he is “JT,” a personage approaching folk heroism. He’s a local lad who rose through the club’s ranks to become the most successful captain in club history, a player who puts his body on the line every game to keep the trophies coming. The players and managers who have worked with him are universally effusive in their praise of his leadership and commitment.

For many others though, Terry is a player who works incredibly hard to further his own glorification and cares for little apart from the satisfaction of his own ego. They will point to his absence through “injury” as England crashed out of Euro 2008 qualifying only to play the full 90 minutes in a Chelsea win four days later. They will point to his controversial personal life and his history of run-ins with the law.

For them, the self-identifying England hero is the villain of the piece.

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