Commentary

Terry, a brilliant centre-back but a flawed individual

It is the conspicuous absence of contrition that, even after all these years, strikes one the hardest: the aggressive self-justification and the unwillingness to admit to a litany of woes that will always cast a long shadow over a player whose on-field achievements are otherwise so impressive.

Welcome to the world of John Terry. A man who claimed to be a leader and whose work ethic on the training pitch was attested to by all who knew him, but who betrayed the very concept by sleeping with his ex-team-mate Wayne Bridge's partner.

A man who said that his first loyalty was to Chelsea, but who was then accused of facilitating tours of the training ground - in defiance of the rules of his club - after footage emerged of a ticket tout allegedly receiving £10,000 (S$17,943) while with Terry.

A man who wanted to be known as a person of integrity, but who was found by an independent FA tribunal in 2012 to have racially abused an opponent - Queens Park Rangers defender Anton Ferdinand - for which he served a four-game ban and was handed a fine of £220,000.

One does not need to list his other transgressions in full, although abusing American tourists at a hotel shortly after the attacks of 9/11 will be familiar to most fans, as will the court case for an alleged assault outside a nightclub in 2002, of which he was cleared, or when he questioned referee Graham Poll's integrity after being sent off in a game last year, for which he was fined another £10,000.

A man who wanted to be known as a person of integrity but who was found by an FA tribunal in 2012 to have racially abused an opponent.

No, the defining attribute of Terry's career has been his shameless attempts at denial, an almost pathological inability to take real responsibility.

When video footage revealed that he had used racist language towards Ferdinand, Terry admitted using the words, but then said that he uttered them by way of denying using them in an earlier clash.

When he was accused of attempting to exploit the England captaincy for commercial gain, he again tried to divert attention on to his advisers.

This is not leadership; it is moral cowardice.

And is it any wonder that Terry has so palpably failed to develop as a human being, when the hangers-on, agents and, yes, managers who have surrounded him have indulged this shameless dance of denial?

When Chelsea were asked about the training-ground tours, they said they were "confident that at no time did John Terry ask for, or accept any money in relation to visits to the training ground".

England managers, too, were quick to overlook his misdemeanours, reasoning that he was such an important player that a blind eye was the pragmatic move.

Terry was handed the England captaincy for a second time in 2011 despite being stripped of it a year previously.

As Terry prepares to leave Chelsea, there is much to applaud.

Most would agree that he has been one of the finest centre-backs in the league.

But true leadership is about more than grit and determination; it is also about values and personal example.

And this is why no realistic appraisal of Terry can ignore his transgressions, nor what they tell us about the game.

He leaves Chelsea with his reputation as a player in the ascendancy, but reputation as a person in tatters.

THE TIMES, LONDON

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 20, 2017, with the headline 'Terry, a brilliant centre-back but a flawed individual'. Print Edition | Subscribe