Like or loathe him, John Terry leaves Chelsea as club legend
Defender was an integral part of Chelsea’s league wins but also suffered heartbreak
Chelsea captain John Terry is set to leave the club at the end of the Premier League season. Photo: PA
Chelsea’s John Terry celebrates after scoring a goal against Gillingham, during an FA Cup Quarter Final. Photo: Tony Harris/PA Wire
Not always rosy: John Terry, 21, along with team-mate Jody Morris, 23 and Wimbledon defender Des Byrne, 21 were arrested over an alleged brawl at a fashionable night club in Knightsbridge, central London. Doorman for The Wellington Club in Knightsbridge, Trevor Thirlwall, 28, claimed his left eye exploded in blood when Terry hit him with a bottle after he ejected the three footballers from the club for loutish behaviour. Photo: Johnny Green/PA Wire.
Chelsea captain John Terry leaves Westminster Magistrates’ Court, London, where he is on trial accused of racially abusing fellow footballer Anton Ferdinand. Photo: Sean Dempsey/PA Wire.
Chelsea’s captain John Terry and Roman Abramovich celebrate winning the 2005 Premier League. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire.
Chelsea’s John Terry is distraught after slipping and missing a penalty to win the 2008 Champions League against Manchester United. United would go onto win the trophy. Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images
Many will just shrug and mutter good riddance. They will point to the controversies which cost John Terry his captaincy of England, twice, and to that depressing day in October 2011 when rival centre-halves tangled at Loftus Road, arguing and eyeballing each other, and what might have been a playground squabble amid the frenzy of a derby erupted into something far more sinister. Life has rarely been simple where Terry is concerned, his rough edges far from smoothed even after 18 years in the professional game. But those who cram into the stands at Chelsea, whether old school or new breed, recognise his qualities more readily. An icon, the likes of whom they may never see again, is bidding farewell. This parting will be painful.
Like him or loathe him, Terry, more than any of that celebrated spine which so flourished under José Mourinho and, invariably, his successors, personifies the modern-day Chelsea. The locals latched on to him as one of their own. Generations of youth-team players have graduated through the academy hoping but failing to follow in the footsteps of a player who first arrived at Harlington as a 14-year-old and, at 17, was replacing Dan Petrescu four minutes from time in a League Cup win against Aston Villa. Sunday’s thrashing of MK Dons, a club still five years from existence when Terry made that senior debut, was his 696th appearance. Only Ron Harris and Peter Bonetti boast more.
Yet the man for whom that banner still proudly screams “Captain, Leader, Legend” up in the Matthew Harding stand represented the heartbeat of a club suddenly money-flushed and morphing around him. When Roman Abramovich’s takeover lured internationals from all over the globe to Stamford Bridge, Terry was the rock upon which the team was built. He was ferocious in his tackling, meticulous in his organisation of a defence, an uncompromising figure unperturbed whether barking instructions at World Cup or Champions League winners who had been plucked from France, Italy, Portugal or Germany to play in his team. Reputations meant nothing because, in-house at least, only his really counted. No defender boasts more than his 40 goals in the Premier League.
His forceful personality could dominate the dressing room, and the power-base he enjoyed within that cabal of senior players was not always healthy, but those within the set-up accepted the standing he held within the club. Mourinho recognised his significance early, seizing upon a player who could hoist a team’s performance out on the pitch by his mere, imposing presence. Fabio Capello was so smitten he twice appointed him as his national captain, and stood by his man even when the player’s misdemeanours effectively cost the Italian his job. He was the manager’s eyes and ears out on the pitch, a player in whom they placed their trust. Those head coaches who doubted him tended to regret it in the end, either because they fell victim to the politics surrounding his status, or because their lineups simply lacked the authority he could bring.
He has never been quick, as he admitted himself recently, but he read the game well and, from that berth on the left of the two centre-halves, forged partnerships which claimed Chelsea trophies: he excelled alongside Ricardo Carvalho and William Gallas in 2005 and 2006; then Alex, even the erratic David Luiz and, of late, Gary Cahill. At international level he chalked up 78 caps and appearances at four major tournaments. With his club his presence was simply taken for granted. He missed only one league game when Carlo Ancelotti’s side claimed the title in 2010 and, when injuries were supposed to have blunted his edge, played every minute of last season’s success. Some of his displays leading up to that triumph last May rivalled the best of his club career.
And yet he never quite separated the pristine from the pantomime. There was that slip in the penalty shootout amid the deluge in Moscow in 2008, his effort skewing wide to pass up the chance to claim his club’s first European Cup and leaving him in tears. When Chelsea did achieve that in Munich four years later, Terry was watching on from the sidelines, suspended for a petulant kick out at Barcelona’s Alexis Sánchez in the semi-final at Camp Nou. He sat next to Frank Lampard on the return flight from Catalonia, a subdued figure with gleeful bedlam all around, still unable really to explain what had come over him to induce such indiscipline. His career is punctured with similar sources of regret – many found their way on to the pages, front and back, of national newspapers – and there was that far from subtle courting of Manchester City in the summer of 2009 which, ultimately, earned him a contract the likes of which Chelsea had never previously offered.
Yet, for all those occasions when he veered into controversy, Terry can end his career at this club merely pointing to the silverware as evidence of his impact: there were four Premier League titles; three League Cups; five FA Cups, with the possibility of a sixth if the team maintain their recent upturn in form; a Europa League, and a European Cup collected in full kit, as per Uefa regulations, at the Allianz Arena four years ago. Of that squad, only Branislav Ivanovic, John Mikel Obi and Cahill will remain come the summer. Ramires departed for China last week, and Terry may now follow him east. A traumatic domestic season has ended up as a cleansing operation, an opportunity to start again, with Chelsea seeking new management and fresh perspective in the summer.
Unearthing the next generation of leaders, players who can inspire a team relentlessly to success, is an onerous task. Frank Lampard was cherished, Didier Drogba idolised, Ashley Cole quietly admired and Petr Cech worshipped for years and will continue to be despite three of that quartet having returned at some stage to Stamford Bridge in rivals’ ranks. It feels inconceivable that Terry would one day be the enemy. He was last off the turf, as usual, at Stadium MK with that chest thumping salute before making public the divorce. Chelsea’s support will miss him most of all because he was one of their own.