Commentary

Football: Chelsea's rough diamond has burned his bridges

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 at Loftus Road.

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 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 Jose Mourinho and, invariably, his successors, personifies the modern-day Chelsea.

 

Sunday's thrashing of Milton Keynes Dons, a club still five years from existence when Terry made his 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, Terry was the rock upon which the team was built.

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.

He was ferocious in his tackling, meticulous in his organisation of a defence, an uncompromising figure who barked instructions at World Cup or Champions League winners 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.

At international level, Terry chalked up 78 caps and appearances at four major tournaments.

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 at Barcelona's Alexis Sanchez in the semi-final at Camp Nou.

His career is punctured with similar sources of regret - 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 14 major trophies as evidence of his impact.

A traumatic domestic season has ended up as a cleansing operation, with Chelsea seeking new management and fresh perspective in the summer.

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.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 02, 2016, with the headline 'Chelsea's rough diamond has burned his bridges'. Print Edition | Subscribe