The consensus, we can all agree, is that Roy Hodgson is not exactly spoiled for choice. When fewer than 30 per cent of the players turning out in the Premier League are available for selection, he is not going to be losing sleep over who he should be picking for the England side.
Such is the paucity of options, this is a team that picks itself. In truth, we could all write down now the names of the XI who will turn out in their first game of the World Cup against Italy in June. And barring the inevitable toll of injury, most of us would get it right.
Which must make it all the more frustrating for the manager that there is one player who would make a huge difference to his prospects that Hodgson is unable to consider. A player who is undoubtedly delivering the best performance of any Englishman currently playing the game. A player whose experience and ability would make England immediately a more significant presence in the competition. A player who, when it comes to considering his potential contribution to the cause, quite frankly, Hodgson should be approaching on bended knee to turn out for his side. The only problem is John Terry is not available.
Let us for a moment put aside all character analysis and simply assess performance. Objectively there is no question Terry is the best home player in the Premier League right now. Sure, Daniel Sturridge is scoring a lot of goals, Leighton Baines is supplying a lot of assists and Joe Hart seems to have recovered his form. But right now nobody is coming close to the authority Terry displays on the pitch.
On Monday night, he was immense in Chelsea’s win over Manchester City. Against a side whose forwards have eviscerated all comers this season, he was utterly imperious. Sure, City were lacking Sergio Aguero. But given the damage the likes of Negredo, Dzeko, Navas and Toure have unleashed on other defences this season, Terry’s ability to smother their threat was extraordinary.
Plus there is more to his game than simply blocking, smothering, tackling and heading. Joe Cole has long claimed Terry is the best passer of a ball he has ever played with. And this season, under the encouragement of his old mentor Jose Mourinho, Terry is once again the fountainhead of many a Chelsea attack; his ability to spot a pass the starting point for the devastating breakaways that have become their trademark.
Furthermore he was abetted on Monday in his spoiling work by Gary Cahill, another Englishman. Together they proved such a solid line, City were largely muted. Imagining the two of them together in that sort of form at the heart of his defence, Hodgson would be able to rest easy.
There is just one pause to such reverie: Terry will not be pulling on the white shirt this summer. He retired from international football in 2012, piqued at the FA’s delivery of a ban for the Anton Ferdinand issue after he had been cleared of wrongdoing in a court of law. When Terry was in the same room as the head of the FA at a Champions League launch last season, he refused to shake David Bernstein’s hand. That does not suggest a rapprochement is either imminent or easily arranged. He says his decision on this issue is final.
Again, leaving the rights and wrongs of the issue aside (and let’s be honest, most of the wrongs remain with Terry), forgetting for a moment how he might be re-integrated back into a dressing room containing players like Sturridge, Danny Welbeck, Andros Townsend and Chris Smalling who would find the words he used to Ferdinand – whatever he claims was their context – utterly repugnant, side-stepping the ridiculous media circus that would descend on England should he return, consider how Hodgson might be able to bridge the enormous gap between the two sides.
Terry is a stubborn individual. That is in part why he is such a good defender. He is unlikely to yield to anything other than a complete capitulation from the authorities. He would probably only come back if an apology were issued by the governing body. Since the FA cannot be seen to be weakening its anti-racism stance in any way that is about as likely to happen as is Steven Gerrard lifting the trophy in Rio. The gap between the parties remains largely unbridgeable. Even Henry Kissinger in his pomp would have struggled to bring these two together.
Besides, the player himself will doubtless be aware that one of the contributing factors to his form is the very fact he is not playing for England. He has had regular opportunity this season to rest during international breaks.
At 33, such chances to recuperate are hugely valuable. When his colleagues are off travelling the globe, under enormous pressure to deliver, he can simply switch off, relax, unwind, leave his motor in a disabled parking bay unnoticed.
With the next international fixtures coming just as the Champions League returns to the schedules next month, the last thing he needs is to rush back to the fray. The fact is, disappointing as it may be for England’s prospects, it seems Hodgson will have to head to Brazil without his best player.