CAIRO, EGYPT – It is part of a manager's lot to face the music. Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas is an intelligent man. He prepared himself. He planned out what he would and wouldn't say, and he was under no illusions about what was in store as he sat down to face the media ahead of this weekend's match. One thing is certain: He didn't expect a ton of questions about Chelsea's match against Manchester United.
It is usually one of the tastiest matches of the season. Normally it would serve up enough layers of intrigue just to get your teeth into the form and aspirations of the two teams. But on Friday morning, Chelsea woke up to find there was only one story in town. When England's Football Association announced their decision to strip John Terry of the England captaincy , the ongoing controversy over his alleged use of racial insults took another sharp twist.
Chelsea's camp was immediately under another barrage of pressure over a situation that has been rumbling since October, since video clips of an angry exchange between Terry and Anton Ferdinand of QPR began flying around on the internet at the end of an emotionally charged local affair in west London. Allegations that Terry racially abused Ferdinand were vehemently denied by the Chelsea defender, but after a police investigation the case wound its way to the courtroom. Terry wanted to clear his name, and his legal team appeared in front of a judge this week to discover a date for a hearing.
They had a plan. Backed up with a letter from Chelsea's chief executive, Ron Gourlay, they appealed for the trial to be delayed until the close season. They asked for special consideration, as many of the players who were required as witnesses would find it difficult to take a chunk of time off during the season to swap the training ground for the court. The judge agreed, and the date was duly set for July.
That meant Terry would be available to play for Chelsea for the remainder of the season, and head of to the European Championship with England, without any threat of imminent distractions, right?
Wrong. The plan backfired badly. While Terry remains innocent until proven otherwise, anti-racist organizations and some vocal black players immediately called for the FA to act to prevent a man who faced a charge of racism being the England captain at a major tournament. Rio Ferdinand, so often Terry's defensive partner on the international stage and the elder brother of Anton, tweeted his dismay about the delayed court date: "I feel insulted ... woke up with a bad taste in my mouth ... its a god damn joke!" The FA simply could not stand back and let the situation fester.
Terry is no stranger to adversity. In fact his supporters would argue that it brings out the best in him. Villas-Boas has consistently praised the player's performance levels ever since this particular storm broke.
Chelsea insist Terry remains their captain, and will be at the forefront of the manager's plans as soon as he recovers from the knee injury which will keep him out of the Manchester United match. You can bet, even though he will not be on the pitch this weekend, he will be the focus. His will be the name being chanted about - presumably in very different terms - by both sets of supporters at Stamford Bridge.
The one thing this whole depressing episode proves is that with an allegation as serious and difficult as this, the worst thing to do is let it drag on. What was needed in this case was a speedy investigation and resolution. It was a peculiar tactic for Terry's legal team to push for a postponement. Wouldn't it have been better for his name to be cleared, as they wish, sooner rather than later?
Besides, while everyone is talking about the ramifications for Terry, somewhere in the background, the longer it is drawn out, the worse it is for the other man inadvertently tangled up in it all, Anton Ferdinand. The pressure will not lift for some months to come.