Sport Soccer

Thursday 26 April 2018

Chelsea's hardest act to follow

John Terry is both an inspiration and a warning to those who hope to follow him

'While his leadership was always apparent, Terry has never been easy to love'
'While his leadership was always apparent, Terry has never been easy to love'

Dion Fanning

Last Monday night at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea won the FA Youth Cup for the third time in four seasons. Chelsea's opponents this time were Manchester City, something which may be of significance. In the last three finals (they lost in 2013), Chelsea have played Blackburn Rovers, Norwich City and Fulham, suggesting that there was some variety to English football, at least at levels below the elite.

Manchester City have approached youth football with the same attention to detail they have brought to everything since Sheikh Mansour arrived in English football, and they have invested heavily as well. City, like all big teams, have great expectations for their youth sides. The coach of the under 18 side that reached the final is the former Blackburn Rovers winger Jason Wilcox.

Wilcox's face is lined with the worries of an old pro. He spent the game on Monday fretting on the sideline as he anxiously willed his team to turn around a first-leg deficit. Wilcox has spoken hopefully about the chances of his players making it at Manchester City, but everybody speaks hopefully about young players. In politics, a gaffe is when a politician accidentally speaks the truth, and the same might be true of youth football. No coach would ever admit there is probably no future for the young players at a club like Chelsea or Manchester City and even if it is true, it is probably something a coach shouldn't be prepared to think.

The men on the Chelsea bench opposite Wilcox seem less fretful than the City coach. Joe Edwards is young and tanned, a former Chelsea trainee who has been involved on the coaching side for 10 years. Edwards appears cocky and confident. He was promoted to coach the under 18s last summer. If Edwards is unfamiliar but assured, the man sitting beside him represents old Chelsea. In Frank Lampard's autobiography, Jody Morris is described as a "man's man . . . He is exactly the same on the pitch as he is off it and you can be sure he will always tell you how it is - no bullshit."

Morris understands Chelsea, which is partly why he was brought in to coach young players, but if he remains lodged in the public consciousness for various misdemeanours, he also offers another connection. On October 28, 1998, Morris was on the pitch when the captain of the reserve side came on to play the last four minutes of a Worthington Cup tie against Aston Villa.

John Terry's position as the last member of the youth team at Chelsea to establish himself at the club is notable, but his longevity and resilience are even more remarkable. When he made his debut, there were five other graduates of the Chelsea academy on the field: Morris, Michael Duberry, Neil Clement, John Harley and Mark Nicholls. In 1998, Chelsea was a different club but Terry has survived the changes and he has endured despite the controversies that have followed him. He has played every league game this season, and last week Jamie Carragher described him as the best defender in the history of the Premier League.

Terry has, at the age of 34, been as important for Jose Mourinho this season as he was 10 years ago when Chelsea won their first title in 50 years. Terry's awareness has always been his greatest strength, along with a relentlessness which those who have played against him find wearing. "You know he's going to put his body in front of every challenge, that he will play deep into the game and that his concentration will be absolute," one player who played against him said.

In 2004, as Chelsea flew to the US for a pre-season tour, Mourinho called Terry to the back of the plane and told him he would be the new captain of the club. Later that season, before Chelsea played Barcelona in the Champions League, Mourinho was asked if facing Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto'o would be a tough examination for Terry. "It will be a big test," Mourinho replied, "for them."

Terry has never lost that need to make everything a challenge. Last Sunday, after the scoreless draw with Arsenal, Mourinho said it was Terry's greatest game for Chelsea. Last Wednesday night, he gave Chelsea the lead against Leicester and today he will captain the side that should secure the title at home to Crystal Palace.

Terry was born in Barking, Essex and grew up, like his father, a Manchester United fan. He was wooed by United and had the opportunity to sign for them but he has said that once he trained at Chelsea, he didn't want to go anywhere else.

He was a midfielder when he joined the club - "small and fat" - but as he moved to the back, his ability to read a game and organise became apparent.

He stayed at the club when other young players decided to leave, but while his leadership was always apparent, Terry has never been an easy player to love.

He was one of the Chelsea players who were said to have disrespected 9/11 when they went drinking at Heathrow the day after the terrorist attacks and while the story might have been exaggerated, it shaped an image of Terry as a reckless youth.

Jody Morris was with him that day and he was alongside Terry when the pair were found not guilty of affray in 2002 following an incident in a London nightclub.

In 2013, his father Ted Terry was fined after an argument at Barking station in which he called a member of the public "a fucking Irish prick" and a "fucking mongrel". He denied the claim that he had also used the words, "Fuck you, you pikey c**t". In 2014, Ted Terry was cleared of a different charge of racially aggravated assault at the Old Bailey.

Terry, too, had other days in court. He was cleared of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand in a Magistrates' Court but he was banned for four matches by the FA for the same incident. He retired from international football when the FA pursued those charges, saying his position had become untenable.

It was the most damaging accusation he had faced but he had previously lost the England captaincy after his alleged affair with Wayne Bridge's former girlfriend became public. He recovered it a year later before the FA took it from him after the incident with Ferdinand. This led to Fabio Capello's departure as England manager. John Terry is not a man to have around if you don't want drama.

For those who believe in him at Chelsea, he is a different person, the man who looks out for the team-mates; Lampard, in his book, talked about Terry's enthusiasm for organising the squad days out.

He has been reborn under Mourinho, although he would probably dispute that he needed a rebirth and instead question the judgment of Rafa Benitez, who had attempted to ease him out of the side during his brief time at the club.

Mourinho saw things differently. They are two political beings but Mourinho also understood that Terry had a lot still to give. He didn't appear on the shortlist for the PFA Player of the Year award but made the PFA Team of the Year.

Mourinho might even have welcomed the refusal of society to welcome Terry back. Mourinho is happy if his players have no divided loyalties and if they have no other calling. Terry belongs at Chelsea, an example and a warning to those who hoped to follow him at Stamford Bridge last Monday. They might understand him at Chelsea but this season has demonstrated, that the champions-elect wouldn't be on the brink of a title without him.

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