Ancelotti stands firmly behind loyal captain
Chelsea's new boss clearly understands the importance of Terry to the club, writes Duncan White
Just as with every other Chelsea home game, there will be a banner draped over the hoardings in the Matthew Harding Stand for the visit of Arsenal to Stamford Bridge this afternoon that carries the message: "JT. Captain, Leader, Legend."
That banner symbolises the unflinching loyalty of the Chelsea supporters to their iconic captain, a partisan loyalty that will only be strengthened by his national disgrace. It might feel like the rest of the country has turned against him this week, but when he steps out on to that familiar turf this afternoon, the roar that will greet his arrival will reassure him that his club is fully behind him. Forty-eight hours after having one armband taken away from him, he will seek consolation in pulling on another.
This is Terry's first home game since the damaging revelations emerged about his private life and throughout that process, Chelsea have stood firmly behind their captain. Carlo Ancelotti might not have been at Chelsea that long but he clearly understands what Terry means to the club.
"He's a very important player here because we know that he was born in this club," the Chelsea manager said. "He is a player from this academy. I think as a club, Chelsea like to have John Terry as their captain. We think about John this week the same way we thought about him last week. We will think about him the same next week. There is no change in what we think about him."
Ancelotti implied that the situation with Terry might provide some extra motivation for Chelsea to galvanise their title challenge. Beating Arsenal would open an eight-point gap between the two clubs and effectively end the Gunners' challenge. Having crushed Arsenal 3-0 at the Emirates in November, there will be no shortage of confidence among Chelsea's players.
Terry, a resilient character, will almost certainly start. He scored against Burnley last weekend despite the first wave of revelations hitting the media and, according to Ancelotti, has not shown the merest hint of wanting to be taken out of the public eye. He did not train with the first team on Friday, doing some light work in the gym and pool, but is certainly fit.
Ancelotti had said on Friday that he would have a meeting with Terry should he lose the England captaincy, to ensure that the player's mind is fully focused on the job. He does not care about Terry's private life but would act if he felt it bleeding into his work.
"Professionally I don't have a problem," he said. "We could have a problem if John Terry came here and he doesn't show good behaviour, but he has shown very good behaviour in this period."
In contrast with Arsenal's injured and depleted squad, Chelsea are near imperious full strength, with Michael Essien the only major absentee. John Obi Mikel is back from the African Cup of Nations duty with Nigeria while Ashley Cole's ankle has recovered sufficiently to allow him to start against his former club. There might have been a lack of focus in their midweek draw with Hull, but Ancelotti's team are now 12 games unbeaten and have not lost at home since November 2008, although that was against today's opponents.
Arsene Wenger could be excused a wry smile as he watches Terry emerge from the tunnel this afternoon. After all, last season he had his own problems dealing with an issue of captaincy. The relations between William Gallas and some of his team-mates had deteriorated so far that Wenger reluctantly stripped the volatile Gallas of the armband. He acknowledges now that it was a big gamble -- but a year on and with Gallas in fine form it looks like inspired management.
Will Terry react with similar determination to his set-back? In Gallas there is an example of how to channel those frustrations productively. Certainly, Capello was impressed with the way Terry took the bad news on Friday. The England manager will be watching Terry's response carefully.
Terry will be the object of much fascination this afternoon, but he will be aware of the eyes of Capello on his back more than those of any other. He need not worry about Ancelotti's confidence in him, though. The Chelsea manager has expressed bafflement at the attention Terry's indiscretions have received, claiming that in Italy the player's private life would have been respected.
"It was a surprise to see so much interest about his private life," he said. "For me it's a surprise to see cameras, paparazzi, helicopters on the training ground."
Has this not put him off staying in English football? "No, la vita movimentata (life is lively)." What if there is a helicopter over the training ground every day? "We'll use a megaphone."