So much has been said and written about John Terry, perhaps more than any other footballer of his generation. To be a long-time England captain whilst courting the kind of negative news stories and developing the kind of notorious and divisive reputation as he has, people need to ask themselves what value does he still holds as a professional footballer? Chelsea F.C. has already asked itself this question and the answer was overwhelmingly positive.
In context, Terry suffers from the fact that his personal vices have absolutely no redeeming features. Even previous bad boys such as Georgie Best and Gazza were often held up as lovable rogues, in between their self-destructive behaviour. But with Terry there is no self-destruction and therefore no pity from the football or wider world allowing detractors to point to the evidence that paints Terry to be a calculating home-wrecker and impulsive racist.
Keeping his cool on the pitch – by this I mean he rarely drops his playing level no matter what else may happen – has the dual effect of infuriating cynics whilst charming those on his side. Indeed, this is what makes him so valuable during the time when a football match starts and a football match ends. He is world class at what he does and shows few signs of slowing down. On the pitch, the only thing against Terry is his age. The thirty-two year old’s playing level will inevitably drop, at which point he will be phased out like any other previously integral team member.
André Villas-Boas tried to artificially accelerate this natural process during his curt reign as The Blues’ boss. Armed with a mandate from the real boss Roman Abramovich, AVB took a sledgehammer to the dressing room hoping to smash the cadre of personalities who were really bossing it. Yet it was the likes of Drogba, Lampard and, of course, Terry who really issued mandates at Stamford Bridge and the young Portuguese coach was soon pushed out of the revolving manager’s door.
The lesson to be learnt here is that there shouldn’t be any dogma to teambuilding. If you are good enough then you’re old enough. Indeed, for Terry it’s a case of if you’re good enough then sleeping with a teammate’s girlfriend will not affect your selection.
The presence of Ryan Giggs entering his twenty-first playing year at Old Trafford is a case in point that age should be no barrier to active participation in success. As age increases, being able to adapt is of paramount importance to maintaining one’s relevance to team building. This is where natural talent evolves into the urgent need for fruitful intelligence, clear understanding and serious application of your God-given abilities. Terry seems capable of doing this.
José Mourinho declared on his re-arrival in West London this summer: ‘I know he [Terry] is a very good player, but he has to prove himself like everybody else.’ Despite being reported as a negative story in the media, Terry could well have wrote this statement for his manager as Terry repeatedly proves himself on the pitch each season, particularly in recent years as it emerged how malignant some of his behaviour became.
His replacement will come in time. Mere money will see to that. A punt on another Gary Cahill-type figure is possible with Arsenal target Ashley Williams a candidate. Looking to the truly world-class level, centre-backs like the Brazilian Dante completely fit the bill as an experienced figure around which to build Chelsea’s next dynasty. Dante might not wish to leave Bayern Munich which is understandable, but the point is that ready-made replacements exist at the highest level, especially when money talks and Mourinho charms.
Isn’t it remarkable that Terry was the last home-grown product of Chelsea’s Youth Academy to emerge as a key first team player: ‘Chelsea Young Player of the Year 1998.’ Since then, Terry is an ignored warning to all concerned with Chelsea that no other British talent from their academy can hold down a place in the first team. That is an inherent problem in Chelsea’s current DNA; perhaps one that AVB would have attempted to change if allowed to continue his aborted project. Continued reliance on a Russian oligarch’s cash and a gifted nucleus of players has sustained Chelsea over the last ten years. This nucleus will inevitably depart to leave only cash, which is an unstable foundation. If any lessons are learnt from Terry’s legacy at Chelsea it should be that, even though its star player may fail to live up to the high standards any club would expect of an employee; this should not inhibit it from challenging youth team players to be role models, on and off the pitch.