JOHN TERRY has become a Chelsea icon. He is every bit a part of the Stamford Bridge psyche as players like Peter Osgood, John Hollins and Kerry Dixon. He’s the sort of character that doesn’t have to try to be forgiven by the Chelsea faithful. He epitomises the clenched-fist, badge-kissing clubman that the fans love. What’s more, he has been England’s best central defender of the past 20 years. But for his off-pitch misdemeanours, he would have won a century of caps.
No man is bigger than the club, said Terry. But in many ways, he was the club. When history looks back on the era of riches and excess at Chelsea, it won’t be the multitude of foreign players that get mentioned first. It will be Terry, Frank Lampard…and then the likes of Didier Drogba. English football fans love nothing more than a player they can call “one of us”, and Terry was most definitely that.
But life moves on and football is, essentially, a young man’s game. Terry is still a young man, but in football terms, he is a veteran. He claims he is fit and could play on for a couple more years, but Chelsea’s decision to give him another 12-month extension is not really based on ability. Terry had a great 2014-15, but this season didn’t start well and with a player of 35, it can all start to go downhill quickly. Don’t forget this is a club that doesn’t forgive failure or under-performance easily – witness Carl Ancelotti’s sacking one year after winning the double and Mourinho’s discord-driven exit this season.
Chelsea’s decision may be more strategic than some people realise
Terry has recovered but 2015-16 could become a write-off for the club if the FA Cup run ends and Paris St. Germain prove too much for them in the UEFA Champions League. Chelsea have to plan for the future and that future should be without Terry.
The media, the supporters and team-mates are “shocked” that the club is prepared to let Terry go. It’s a difficult one for Chelsea as, in typical fashion, they are in transition after another winter at the gallows. They do not know who will be their manager next season – although we now realise it will not be Pep Guardiola – and therefore, would not want to saddle the new man with a 35 year-old, highly influential part of the furniture indelibly linked with past regimes.
Furthermore, if Terry did stay, it would almost certainly be the job of the next master of the dugout to phase-out a player who represents the past. This would not go down well with the fans and, given rumours that Terry can be disruptive, create possible dressing room problems. Chelsea’s move may be more strategic than meets the eye.
The timing of the announcement from Terry is also similarly tactical. After trouncing MK Dons 5-1, he reveals that he will be leaving after being informed that he won’t get a new deal. Clever eh? It’s a bit like a child telling one parent he has been denied something by the other. The club says no, so let’s tell the supporters and win the public vote.
On the face of it, Terry’s form probably justified another year, but with the future of the management uncertain, it was easier to bring to an end his long association with the club. Players of Terry’s calibre and status like to decide their own fate – he has been denied that opportunity.
The danger is that the next few months will become “John Terry – the farewell tour” and that may prove a distraction. But if Chelsea do exit the two competitions they can still win, don’t be too surprised if it all ends early. Where will he go? He says he could not play for another Premier club and at this stage, he means it. Arsenal fans, never his greatest allies, have called for Arsene Wenger to sign him. Surely West Ham would love him in Claret and Blue, lining up at the Olympic in 2016-17? And there’s always Tottenham! In all reality, he will go abroad, but you just cannot see Terry in the Chinese Super League. The smart money has to be on a stint in the US, perhaps linking-up with his old mate, “Lamps”.
Whatever the future, Terry should bow out gracefully and with memories of the Barking-born defender at his peak. Sometimes, if a legend goes on too long, he can dilute his well-earned reputation. Terry has the chance to end on a relative high, even if it might not be garnished with silverware.