The commander in chief of Chelsea’s defence, who rallied his troops to every battle is the epitome of leadership. He played every minute wearing his heart on his sleeve and was a living example of the idea that the name in front of the shirt is always bigger than the one behind. He was a warrior on the field who put his body on the line while making every tackle and a mentor off the field, to all the kids coming through the academy. Hailed to be one of the two greatest centre backs in the golden generation of English Football, this is the story of Chelsea’s general, John Terry.
Entry with Expectations
The English defender initially played for a Sunday League team called Senrab, where he played alongside future Premier League stars like Sol Campbell, Bobby Zamora and Ledley King to name a few. As a young lad, Terry joined the youth setup at West Ham United where he was initially a midfielder. He was then moved to a back four, where he made a name for himself as a centre-back who was not afraid of playing with the ball.
He caught the eyes of Chelsea and was signed by them when he was 14 years old. Coming from a setup that was known for producing Premier League superstars, expectations were high. Unlike many who would have faltered and succumbed to pressure, Terry kept his head on his shoulders and rose through the ranks of the youth system, while quietly making a name as a lad with huge potential.
Match made in Heaven
“He’s different from all the others, Chelsea is his home, it always has been, ever since the youth squad. One word from him and the locker room holds its breath. He’s the first one to sit down at meals, the first one to stand up. Being part of this club is his mission, that’s how he was made.” – Carlo Ancelotti
Terry made his debut for Chelsea on 28th October 1998 as a late substitute in a League Cup tie against Aston Villa. He went on to make his first full appearance that season in an FA Cup third-round match, a 2-0 win over Oldham Athletic. However, the true romance between Terry and Chelsea blossomed in the season of 2000-01, during which he made 23 starts and was voted the club’s Player of the year by his fellow teammates.
He became a regular starter in the season of 2001-02, paired alongside with Marcel Desailly, who was a huge admirer of the young centre-back. The voice and authority that Terry had at such a young age led Desailly, then club captain, to notice the temperament and personality that he carried. In the 2003-04 season, John was made the club vice-captain by Claudio Ranieri. The charisma and stature coupled with his technical ability on the ball, helped him forge a strong partnership with William Gallas, while Desailly reached the end of his playing days.
When Desailly announced his retirement in 2004 and with the Special One being appointed by Chelsea’s Russian owner, the gaffer looked nowhere past John for the captain’s armband.
“A defender’s defender — unbelievably solid with such a none-shall-pass attitude — Terry has been the captain and linchpin of Chelsea’s recent golden years.” – Jimmy Greaves
Vic – Terry Royale
The career that John had with the club is an apt synonym for success. He has a record 717 appearances for Chelsea, lifting 15 major trophies at club level. He won every tournament except the UEFA Super Cup.
During these countless appearances, he also amassed a number of personal accolades with UEFA naming him the best defender in 2005, 2008 and 2009. He was voted the PFA player of the year in 2005 when he led his to side to back-to-back Premier League titles.
Although Terry was not a part of the starting eleven that lifted the Champions League in 2012, he played a huge role in orchestrating Chelsea’s infamous victory against Barcelona in the semi-final. The second leg of the semi-final that was played at Camp Nou was witness to both the positive and the negative side of the club legend. He commandeered his troops marvellously and put his body on the line against a Barcelona side who were firing shots left, right and centre before he was sent off for an off the ball incident with Alexis Sanchez that saw him receive a straight red. His on-field absence was clearly felt as Barcelona went up in aggregate before Torres bailing Chelsea out towards the very end.
The English centre back apologised to his fans and teammates publicly as he would not be a part of the squad that played at the Munich final in 2012. However, the impact that he had off the pitch was very apparent with the fighting spirit of the side. The never-say-die attitude of his was reflected in the way Chelsea managed their final against a fierce Bayern Munich side, who lost in penalties. His tenacious attitude and ability to play through pain made him garner cult status at the club
“I have not always been complimentary about how Chelsea play, because it is the opposite of what we stand for at Barcelona. But I can’t deny that Terry is one of the most committed English players I’ve played against and a great leader for club and country.” – Xavi.
Leading from the front, John had an innate quality to steer his side over the line. This was exemplified in a match against Reading where Chelsea lost both Petr Cech and Carlo Cudicini to injury with no substitutes left. The captain did not hesitate for a second and put on a display between the sticks during which he kept a clean sheet and Chelsea won 1-0.
Another evidence of his ever-ready responsible shoulders was the Champions League Final in 2008 against Manchester United. Terry was trusted with the penalty that would see Chelsea lift the Champions League for the first time, but unfortunately, his standing foot slipped as he took the penalty and the ball flew off target. Although this final was one to forget for the English national, his character traits made him consistent and dependable. Terry broke down in tears, but this was all but compensated when Chelsea went on to lift the Champions League in 2012.
There are numerous instances where Chelsea would lose the ball in crucial areas of the pitch and Terry, with his insightful positioning and perfectly timed tackles would get the situation under control. His contributions on the goal scoring side of the pitch are as remarkable as his commanding presence on his defensive duties. He was a constant aerial threat from set-pieces which is evident in his 41 goals scored – a feat unparalleled by any Premier League defender.
“He has been the best that we’ve seen. For the next 20 or 30 years, that position at the near post, when we see other defenders doing it, we’ll call it ‘the John Terry position’. Terry is always in the right position. His understanding of where to be, his reading of the game and reading crosses cannot be matched. I don’t think we’ve ever seen anyone better.” – Jamie Carragher.
An Idyllic End
The season of 2016-17 saw the end of one of the greatest ever centre backs that the Premier League has ever produced. A recurring injury problem rendered Terry out of the match squad on several occasions under Antonio Conte. However, the physical issues never came in the way of his persona of a leader as he was the crucial voice binding the team and gaffer who went on to win the Premier League.
Conte became a huge admirer of his qualities and gave him the most beautiful goodbye gift by taking him off in the 26th minute to honour the number 26 on the back of his shirt which every Chelsea player and well-wisher would associate him with. The players on the field gave him a guard of honour to mark the legend, leaving the pitch for one last time. Stamford Bridge had never heard a more deafening applause as it bid farewell to one of their own, their commander in crisis, their captain, John Terry, for one last time.
Terry then went on to play for the current Premier League side, Aston Villa, when they were in the Championship for a year before taking up a coaching role at Villa Park. The mentality of a leader that he possesses with his insightful ideas about football make him cut-out for management. This was clear as he was part of the backroom staff which helped Aston Villa to gain promotion to the Premier League for the 2019-20 season.
A natural leader with the heart of a warrior, John Terry is the perfect role model for any aspiring youngster coming through the youth system at any club in the world. The doors of Stamford Bridge would always welcome its leader back and one day would love to see him at the helm of Chelsea.
“He gives everything for the team — from the first to the last minute. Out there, he’s taking care of every team member. And he does the same off the pitch as well. You won’t play with anyone quite like him again.” – Arjen Robben
Written by Varun Kumar
El Arte Del Futbol is an official content creator for OneFootball. Find more original features, Player Profiles and tactical analysis on www.elartedf.com. If you are reading this on our website, we’d like to thank you for your continuous support!