With John Terry looking likely to bid farewell to Chelsea, TheHardTackle pays tribute to a legendary Blues career that, despite its moments of triumph, was not without its challenges.
At the start of this season, John Terry leaving Chelsea was the last thing on anyone’s mind. All was rosy at Stamford Bridge, the home of the newly crowed English champions. In over 21 years at the club, there was no indication that Terry would not retire a Chelsea man.
The Blues’ skipper’s announcement in January 2016, then, came as a shock to the Chelsea faithful, bringing notice to the seemingly premature — even if inevitable — fall of the curtain on a legendary career.
2000-04: Promising beginnings
After making his debut in the League Cup against Aston Villa late in 1998, John Terry made sporadic appearances under Gianluca Vialli, before joining Nottingham Forest on a short loan spell. He broke into the first team in 2000-01, when manager Claudio Ranieri handed him 22 Premier League appearances during a season that the 20-year-old would finish as the club’s Player of the Year.
It would be the first of several achievements to come.
Terry’s importance to the team grew as Ranieri relied on his partnership with then-captain Marcel Desailly to mastermind Chelsea’s progression from a fashionable mid-table club to a Champions League team that meant business. They received a major shot in the arm when Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003. It was also a significant year in Terry’s international career as he made his England debut against Serbia and Montenegro in June.
The season that followed saw Chelsea finish above perennial winners Manchester United for the first time in Premier League history, and defeat Premiership invincibles Arsenal en route to the club’s first Champions League semifinal. Terry ended the season making a first of four appearances in the PFA Team of the Year, and went to Portugal for the European Championships having displaced Sol Campbell as England’s first choice centre-back.
2004-07: Jose Mourinho, the Old Guard and success
In the summer of 2004, Chelsea brought in Jose Mourinho, who was fresh from winning a treble with the unfancied FC Porto and raring to take on bigger challenges. The 23-year-old Terry was named captain as Chelsea embarked on the most successful period in the club’s history. In the three seasons that followed, Chelsea won 2 league cups, 2 Premier League titles and the FA Cup — success built on a core of John Terry, Frank Lampard, Petr Cech and Didier Drogba, Chelsea’s ‘old guard’.
This was also a period when Terry picked up several individual accolades. He was named PFA Player of the Year in 2005, the first defender to win the award since Paul McGrath in 1993. He would make a first of five consecutive appearances in the FIFPro World XI in 2005, as well as a first of four appearances in the UEFA Team of the Year.
He was also voted Chelsea’s Player of the Year for the second time in his career in 2006. Steve McClaren, hired as England manager after an underwhelming 2006 World Cup, named the Chelsea skipper as England captain.
Terry was now, beyond argument, one of football’s best.
However, more testing times were to come.
2007-11: Moscow, Ovrebo and another title
September 2007 saw the departure of Mourinho after a falling out with the club board. The season itself promised much but left a Chelsea squad dejected on three occasions as they saw the League Cup, the Premier League and the Champions League trophies go elsewhere.
For the European Cup in particular, Terry was left with no one but himself to blame as he slipped for the crucial penalty, a moment he has said will haunt him forever. Chelsea and Terry experienced further European heartbreak the following season as Tom Henning Ovrebo had a refereeing performance to forget at Stamford Bridge, handing Barcelona a berth in the final and eventually the trophy.
In early 2010, when he was revealed as the English footballer who had an affair with Vanessa Perroncel, Wayne Bridge’s ex-girlfriend — a horrendous personal error that cost him his status as England captain — it made him the perennial recipient of passionate booing across English grounds. After the revelation, Chelsea travelled to Burnley. Amidst a frosty reception, he scored a late winner to put Carlo Ancelotti’s side back on track in the title race, one they would go on to win in some style. All of this typified John Terry — imperfect, but unshakeable.
Terry had built an unflappable reputation as a top class defender, leader and hard man. He said about himself, “I still say if the ball is there to be won I will go for it, whether with my head or whatever, and if it means us scoring or stopping a goal, I won’t think twice.”
2010-13: Past it?
The period that followed, however, was not good for Chelsea or their captain. The team finished the 2010-11 season trophyless, and Carlo Ancelotti paid for it with his job. This was the first of two times in Terry’s career where he and his club would have an extremely underwhelming season following a dominant one, and it also marked the first attempt to phase him out of the first team.
New manager Andre Villas-Boas attempted to introduce a high defensive line that left Terry exposed on a number of occasions, and saw the young Portuguese manager fall back on quicker defenders to implement his system. He was also determined to make lesser use of Frank Lampard and displace Didier Drogba with Fernando Torres. These were unpopular moves that led to poor results and eventually his sacking. Terry was not helped by another personal abberation, mouthing racial profanity at Anton Ferdinand of QPR, an act that saw him land a lengthy ban and damage his position in the England squad almost beyond repair.
Interim manager Roberto Di Matteo reinstated the old guard, and was rewarded with the ultimate prize — the first Champions League in Chelsea’s history.
Terry retired from international football following EURO 2012, leaving him to focus on his club career. However, further rotation was to follow during the reign of Rafael Benitez, who played Terry only in games of lesser importance. This was something he could do with relative impunity owing to the fact that his stock could not have fallen any further among Chelsea fans.
The writing was seemingly on the wall, however. Unsavoury incidents were fresher in the memory than individual accolades, the skipper was out of favour for two seasons running, and was well over 30 years of age. Was John Terry done?
Mourinho did not share the views of Benitez and Villas-Boas. Where they saw a slowing, easily-exposed has-been, he saw an experienced warrior with an excellent reading of the game who could form a title-winning partnership with the quicker Gary Cahill.
Terry grabbed the opportunity he was handed with gusto, performing with excellence in Mourinho’s lower defensive block. The English pair formed the core of a defence that would go on to win the club’s fourth Premier League title in 2015, leading the table from the opening day to the end. It was a landmark achievement for Terry in particular as he played every minute of a league campaign for the first time in his career, aged 34.
Once again they tried to put him down. Once again he fed off it and rose tall.
2015-16: Past it? (2)
Chelsea did not start the defence of their title well at all, gathering just 4 points from the first 4 matches. Mourinho, who asked Terry to take the club on his shoulders in 2004 and stood by him for two seasons in his second stint, hauled off his skipper at half-time at the Etihad in the second game of the season, and began to rotate him out of the team, giving an increasing number of starts to the young Kurt Zouma.
Maybe we should have suspected it then.
The season did not take much of a turn for the better even under interim manager Guus Hiddink, particularly in a defensive sense as the Blues continued to let in goals during a meek climb to the top half of the table, with or without Terry in the side.
A sending off at the Stadium of Light following an injury layoff is not the kind of ending that the fans desired for their beloved captain, who has emerged from the dugout 703 times in Chelsea colours and has been the face of the club through the most successful period in their history.
Offered a new deal by the club last week, the skipper responded, “The contract extension the club has offered me is a different role and I hope everyone will understand I want to take the time to consider it carefully before making a decision.” While fans will hope — for reasons emotional as well as those to do with football — that Terry stays on, the chances look slim.
Should the captain leave the ship, the Blues supporters’ emotions are best summed up by a certain banner that embellishes the Shed End: Captain, Leader, Legend.