John Terry's shock retirement from international football came hours before the Football Association was due to hold a hearing into claims the Chelsea defender racially abused Queens Park Rangers' Anton Ferdinand, despite a court having found him not guilty.
The football editor of The Times newspaper said "the game has been tarnished" by the incident last October and "Terry did the right thing last night. It may well have been the hardest thing he's ever done."
"JT walks out on England," proclaimed the Sun tabloid in a headline, adding "78 caps but no tears".
It said many fans "have grown to dislike a player who, nevertheless, remains this country's best defender by a distance... Terry's career has been a soap opera and, at times, an unsavoury one."
Terry's reputation has suffered from episodes like a nightclub brawl, a fine over claims of drunkenly taunting US tourists shortly after the 9/11 attacks, and 2010 reports of an affair with model Vanessa Perroncel, ex-partner of team-mate Wayne Bridge.
Twice England captain, Terry, 31, had become "not a symbol of unity but of division," according to a commentator in the tabloid Mirror, who said his "legacy had become tainted beyond repair".
But the Sun said the Chelsea skipper retained the capacity to surprise.
"He will probably return one day... as manager," it predicted boldly.
"Equally, it would not be the greatest surprise if one day, we see Terry in an England shirt again. This is a bloke who was stripped of the England captaincy, won it back but lost it again.
"Do not forget. Nothing seems to stick with Teflon Terry."