Roy Hodgson probably had enough on his plate already, with Montenegro two points clear of his England side in Group H and both Poland and Ukraine snapping at their heels four points behind but each with a game in hand, before John Terry's potential availability cast him back into a familiar political minefield. The manager had just grown accustomed to trotting out the "he's not available so it's not an issue" line whenever JT, Rio Ferdinand and the fall-out from that October afternoon at Loftus Road in 2011 were flung at him. That convenient excuse will now be denied him.
Hodgson had placed his faith in the Chelsea captain at Euro 2012 and was rewarded by the centre-half's reassuring solidity. At the time he had clearly rated Terry's involvement as more beneficial than Ferdinand's, who was ignored for those ambiguous "football reasons", and he continued to insist even in August and September that the 32-year-old Terry, having been acquitted of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand at Westminster magistrates court, was integral. Yet as he ponders ringing to ascertain formally Terry's availability, whether that be next month for the summer friendlies or in the autumn in advance of critical qualifiers, Hodgson has another issue to address. Is the player still good enough to warrant a call-up?
The reality is Terry's season has been interrupted, first by that Football Association-imposed four-game suspension and then a knee injury that refused to heal without complication. A paltry nine Premier League starts has made him feel peripheral at a club he has tended to dominate. England's rather dicey predicament in their qualifying section might yet demand short-term fixes as they target victories over Ukraine, Montenegro and Poland to reach Brazil, but is Terry still capable of excelling at that level? In the context of his club form, the man himself remains convinced. "Yes, I personally think I am [at the same level as in the past]," he said. "Physically I feel really good. I'm fit and doing extra work when I'm not playing and at the same time I'm ready and fighting."
Yet there remains, understandably, a rustiness. He still flew into thunderous challenges and interceptions, aspects of his game that are familiar, at St Jakob-Park on Thursday but he was clearly wary of being turned or exposed by Basel's quicker players, an uncertainty that betrayed a centre-half whose rhythm has been disrupted by a mid-season scrambling for match fitness, the implications of squad rotation and slight tweaks in positioning under the interim manager, Rafael Benítez. He described the season as "frustrating" afterwards even if he cannot discredit Benítez's approach to selection. The frustration lingers, however, that this step out of the limelight has coincided with his contract at Stamford Bridge approaching its final year. Terry may have long-term ambitions with his country but there is a short-term issue still to be addressed with his club.
There have been no talks as yet over a one-year extension to fall in with Chelsea's policy on players over 30. "I'm happy to leave things until they come to me," he said. "I know it sounds a little cliched but we have got a lot of games and we don't know who the manager's going to be next year as well. That's going to have a lot to do with it. Until that happens I can't really go knocking on their door. And, being honest, I'm probably not in the strongest position to go knocking anyway, not playing. It depends on my fitness and me staying in a good enough condition to impress the guys who make those decisions.
"I'll wait for the club. We've always had that mutual respect between ourselves. I've had a great relationship with the board and the guys who make those decisions. It would be nice to get some silverware, get the season out of the way and maybe talk contracts in the summer. I'd love to stay at Chelsea. If that's not the case, I have got another year left which I will honour and respect, regardless if it's a yes or a no. Naturally it would be disappointing (if no offer is forthcoming) but at the same time you understand you can't be around forever. Where I would go after that it certainly wouldn't be in England. I couldn't do that to Chelsea or the fans. That's just not me. But I'll definitely be here next year.
"If a new manager comes in, it will be a fresh start for everyone. Like it was with Rafa. There were players maybe out of favour, then Rafa comes in and they get a new lease of life. When the new manager comes in, whoever it may be, it's a fresh start for us all and it's down to us all to prove it. I understand I'm not getting any younger. The guys below me are playing well and they've got youth on their side."
The same, of course, might apply with England. Hodgson lost Ferdinand, Michael Dawson and Gary Cahill for the qualifiers against San Marino and Montenegro but Joleon Lescott and Chris Smalling stepped in as impressive replacements. Phil Jones may be available next month and Phil Jagielka, too. Steven Caulker and Steven Taylor have shown flashes of their quality at club level and represent an alternative future. Would reverting to Terry not be too regressive? That will play on the England manager's mind as he considers a qualifying campaign that is threatening to slip away from his team. Whether the former captain is the man to wrest some control back in the group remains to be seen.