Joe Hart has described John Terry as "an inspiration" and expressed regret at the Chelsea captain's decision to retire from international football, with the England goalkeeper urging the next generation of centre-halves to seize their opportunity and prosper at the highest level.
Life after Terry begins for Roy Hodgson's side on Friday in front of a sell-out crowd at Wembley, albeit only against San Marino, the joint lowest-ranked side in world football, after the 31-year-old quit on 78 caps last month having grown infuriated at a Football Association charge for using abusive language with racial connotations. Terry, who had been cleared of a racially aggravated public order offence at Westminster magistrates court in July, described his position as "untenable" at the time but was subsequently found guilty by a three-man panel of racially abusing the Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand.
"John is a great centre-half, a great servant to his country, an inspiration and a very passionate and proud Englishman," said Hart. "It's a shame we've lost him as he's still got so much ability. It's a big blow, but it's John's decision. I don't know what's going on in John's life on or off the field. I don't know his body or his frame of mind. I only know that, when I'm here with England, training and eating chicken and pasta next to him, he's a really good guy, a good person and, football-wise, an inspiration.
"He was someone who, when I first came to the squad, treated me just the same as he does now. When I first came into the squad as a third-choice goalkeeper with no chance of playing, he treated me the same as he does now. I can't thank him enough for how helpful he's been with me in the England squad and he's someone I respect very, very much on and off the field. He was great to me and the other players."
The fall-out from the incident at Loftus Road has seen Terry first stripped of the captaincy and then reluctantly retire, Fabio Capello resign, Rio Ferdinand fined for re-tweeting a message that described Ashley Cole as a "choc ice", and Cole also charged with misconduct for an outburst on Twitter. The left-back is not expected to appeal against that sanction by Thursday's 4pm deadline, and is also braced to be fined two weeks' wages by Chelsea for breaching the club's code of conduct on social media.
Terry, meanwhile, is adamant he has been wronged by the independent panel's judgment, which imposed a four-match ban and a £220,000 fine, but is still considering whether to launch an appeal against the regulatory commission's verdict – he has until 18 October to respond – even if he is well aware of the damage being inflicted upon Chelsea and the image of football by the furore.
Roy Hodgson is expected to pair Joleon Lescott with Phil Jagielka in defence, with Kyle Walker to be handed a first competitive start at right-back and Leighton Baines likely to start at left-back. The England team's medical staff continue to assess Frank Lampard's fitness – the 34-year-old has been suffering discomfort behind his knee and could only play a small part in training at St George's Park on Wednesday – and will make a late decision on his availability to captain the team in the absence of the suspended Steven Gerrard.
Should Frank Lampard miss out then Wayne Rooney would most likely wear the armband, with Hodgson giving thought to employing the Manchester United forward in an advanced midfield role behind two strikers – a position he filled for his club at Newcastle on Sunday – against San Marino given the amount of possession the hosts expect to enjoy. The England manager has even mooted the possibility of Michael Carrick playing some part of the game as a ball playing centre-back if necessary as the home side seek to bolster their goal difference.
That would represent a temporary arrangement, with Hart now urging the four specialist centre-backs in this squad – their number supplemented by the uncapped Ryan Shawcross – to prove they can fill the void left by Terry. "The future's solid, and there are places up for grabs," he said. "Joleon and John seemed to have the shirt, then Jags came in last time [against Moldova and Ukraine] and Gary Cahill is a great talent at Chelsea and a Champions League winner now.
"Ryan's been so consistent for Stoke and it's highlighted, week in week out, as a defensive unit how strong they are. John Terry has held that position down for a long time now and maybe some people wouldn't have seen the light. But, while people aren't happy to see John retire, there's an opportunity there now."