With Chelsea’s 17th major honour being wrapped up with a 1-0 victory at the Hawthorns on Friday night, a familiar trophy-lifting figure was noticeably absent. Not actually absent, as club captain John Terry was obviously on-hand to lift the trophy. But the 2016-2017 campaign success is the first trophy in some 17 years that John Terry has not been an integral part of on the pitch.
John Terry: Captain, Leader, Chelsea Legend
John Terry has won everything there is to win at the club level. Five FA cups, five Premier Leagues, three League Cups, one Europa League and most notably the one Champions League. As his career in blue winds to a close, it is important to look back at the club’s captain, leader and legend.
John Terry grew up playing for prominent Sunday league side, Senrab, in East London. By ten, he was part of West Ham’s youth setup as a midfielder. Aged 14, he made the jump to Chelsea after being highly sought after by Manchester United. His father, a United supporter, was none too pleased. His time as a youth player instilled the values critical to his success. Cleaning Dennis Wise and future Chelsea staffer Eddie Newton’s boots was a valuable experience to a young John Terry. So much so that he thinks the young players of today are missing out. In a Soccer AM “Boot Room” interview, he says “If I was the FA, I would go back to doing boots and a bit of duties.”
By 17, Terry signed a professional contract, making his debut in the League Cup against Aston Villa. 15 Chelsea appearances and a short loan at Nottingham Forest later, Terry became a mainstay in 2001. By 2003, he had became Claudio Ranieri’s vice captain, wearing the armband in Marcel Desailly’s absence. In the space of just five years, Terry had gone from a school boy to the captain of a title challenger.
“John Terry’s won the Double”
With the arrival of Jose Mourinho in 2004, John Terry was elevated from a good defender to a great one. Premier League records in goals conceded, clean sheets, and points saw Terry win PFA Player of the Year. Cementing his role as first choice centre-back for England at the time, Terry became one of the world’s most sought after defenders. 2005 saw the Englishman win the league again, as well as being included in the FIFPro World XI. The departure of defensive mastermind Jose Mourinho caused no drop in form for Terry, despite a back surgery and a broken foot in the following years.
A 2007 League Cup victory, a heart-breaking Champions League final loss and three consecutive UEFA Defender of the Year awards pushed him into hero status at the club. A 2010 Premier League and FA Cup double saw him become the subject of an oft-espoused anti-Spurs chant. Despite his absence in the Champions League final, he played a crucial role in getting there. His medal and trophy-lifting were earned as much as anyone’s.
Chelsea and England’s greatest
He has won everything there is to win, but John Terry has done more than just play for great teams. Strong, fast and a terrific passer of the ball with both feet. Dominant in the air, he is the highest scoring non-penalty taking defender in Premier League history. A bullet header as he rises above his marker is a scene all too familiar to Chelsea supporters. Terry possesses all the strengths of an old-fashioned English centre-half. However, his ability to step into midfield and passing range are often overlooked. At 34, he was the best defender in the Premier League, despite giving Per Mertesacker a run for his money in the pace department. Positionally he was brilliant.
Terry has accomplished nearly everything there is to accomplish on the personal and team level. Yet, he is regularly slighted in global footballing circles. Whether it be his prominent off-field shortcomings or his sometimes unsavoury intensity, he does not get the credit he deserves. He is on the level of Bobby Moore, and most certainly Rio Ferdinand. John Terry very well might be England’s best-ever defender.
At Chelsea, he is appreciated for what he is. A fierce competitor, a loyal servant, their longest-serving captain, and on the level of Zola and Lampard. Whatever happens, he will always be mentioned as one of Chelsea and England’s greatest.
John Terry’s imminent departure leaves a gaping hole in the makeup of this Chelsea squad. Andreas Christensen looks the immediate replacement for his spot. Realistically, Antonio Conte has a job on his hands to replace the character, more so than the player. Virgil Van Dijk, Manolas, Koulibaly are all names that have been bandied about for next season. But John Terry is so much more to the club than a terrific centre-back.
Being the only academy product to cement their role in the club in the last two decades, he is a link for the fans. “He’s one of our own”. With the U-18’s completing an unprecedented treble of the FA Youth Cup, Southern Premier League, and National League Friday morning, an academy product must come through. The obvious candidate is Chalobah or Loftus-Cheek, both players who have made cameos this season. Whomever it is, the fans certainly need one.
Captain, Leader, Chelsea Legend
Post-match amid the title celebrations, Frank Lampard spoke about the role Terry has played behind the scenes. His dressing room character is going to be sorely missed. Gary Cahill has come on leaps and bounds as the acting captain this season. Much more consistent than years past, his importance behind the scenes is only going to increase. It is a good thing that the club is starting to regain the strong characters of teams gone by. Drogba, Cech, Lampard and Terry are gone; but Costa, Courtois, Azpilicueta and Cahill are of the same ilk as competitors of the highest level.
He has embodied everything Chelsea has become in the last 15 years. Bound for a role with the club in the future, Terry is the quintessential model for a Chelsea hopeful. Devoted, competitive, and selfless beyond belief. It has always been about Chelsea. John Terry is going to be missed, but he earned the right to be missed.
He deserves to go out his own way, whether that be to Bournemouth, China, Qatar, or America. Another goal against Watford Monday, and most likely his last ever Chelsea appearance on the horizon at the weekend against Sunderland. Terry may hang up his boots Sunday night, but whatever he does, he will always be Chelsea’s captain, leader and legend.