A new look Chelsea outfit has arrived, and the verdict is out. John Terry has probably never felt so vulnerable in his life. And who can blame him?
When Jose Mourinho returned to the club, even the most cynical observer saw in it a clear sign that Roman Abramovich had thrown in the towel. The spine, that rusty but reliable backbone of the West London club, had prevailed yet again or so it seemed. It turns out there was no better person to dismantle Chelsea’s backbone than the one who created it. Where Scolari and Villas Boas had failed, where di Matteo and Ancelotti had failed to tread, Mourinho strolled through – a chainsaw in tow.
It certainly helped that Drogba had left on his own volition, but if the manner in which Lampard’s exit raised few eyebrows is any indication, then the Ivorian’s departure would also have been a foregone conclusion under the Portuguese genius’ second coming. Frank Lampard, Chelsea’s highest scorer ever with 211 goals, made his exit quietly after a season in which the Blues disappointed after much promise.
John Terry whose omission from the England World Cup squad was presumably meant to ensure the Three Lions could practice and play in relative quiet, began training for next season rather early. The veteran defender par excellence wouldn’t have had a lot of peace on his mind though, knowing full well that Lampard – his trusted deputy – was no longer going to be around to make that inch-perfect assist or pop in with a last minute goal.
Most fans can recall before Chelsea’s momentous encounter with Bolton in a clash that would decide the Premier League early if Chelsea were victorious, the anecdote of how John Terry and Frank Lampard spoke of how incredible it would be for the person who scored the goal that would guarantee the Blues their first domestic league trophy in 50 years. Lampard went on to make history, and the duo have never looked back since then.
Lampard was clearly Chelsea’s best player of the past decade, perhaps even longer. But if Lampard is not indispensable, then Terry’s position as the leader and legend isn’t so sacrosanct either. In some ways, John Terry’s position is even more precarious than Lampard’s was. Lampard left without having to prove anything to anyone. Terry, on the other hand, strikes you as someone who got really far on Super Mario only for the Nintendo console to crash leaving him with no option but to start all over again.
John Terry is a top-class defender, despite his slowing legs, because he’s got the best of both worlds: he is a defender who’s crazy enough to venture up front, and restrained enough to hold his ground. With David Luiz flogged off to the highest (and perhaps, unwisest) bidder, Terry has been told in subtle and yet no uncertain terms that Mourinho wants his defenders to defend, more than anything else. Not that it should come as a surprise to anyone, since Jose expects his strikers to put in a defensive shift every now and then too.
As for restraint, Gary Cahill and Branislav Ivanovic bring the same physicality and robustness at the back that Terry specializes in. The two of them are more fleet-footed than John Terry can ever hope to be, and if Varane makes his way from Madrid to the rainy suburbs of London, then John Terry will have yet another gifted contender to fight for a starting spot. There’s also Zouma, Omerou and Kalas (presently on loan) to contend with; the beleaguered captain cannot catch a break.
The Chelsea captain could always pretend his primary function is to usher in a new age of rearguard generals, while we walks towards the horizon with his pride intact. But you get the sneaking suspicion everyone knows what nobody’s saying aloud: Terry is being forced through an ordeal Lampard was lucky to avoid. John Terry is looking at a couple of years, at least, where he could have to fight for a starting line-up spot with players who were barely in their teens when Terry was already wearing the royal blue kit.
Nothing diminishes a legend more than career longevity. Sooner or later those cracks – papered and smoothed over until now by sheer grit – are going to show again, and Terry is going to be asked when he finally hangs up his boots and not why. John Terry will also have to carry out his defensive duties without Ashley Cole to back him up.
Arguably the best left-back in the Premier League, Ashley Cole saw his star dim with the arrival of Azpilicueta. Terry and Cole had an innate sense of understanding with each other; and terrorized anyone who dared prod Chelsea at the left. Without Cole around anymore, John Terry will need to build up a rapport with new man Filipe Luis – no mean feat, and certainly an easier ask of younger defenders.
If Thibaut Courtois returns to Chelsea, which is looking more certain with each passing day, that will almost certainly mean Petr Cech will have to call time on his Chelsea career and move to greener pastures. Terry, who put in some of his most memorable performances, behind Lampard and flanked by Cech and Cole, is suddenly on his own.
The hero that Chelsea needed once. Now potentially reduced to playing bit parts, like a mime on the streets. John Terry will need to dig in deep and show that resolve he’s famed for when he’s backed into a corner. If those were desperate times, this is career-defining. He’s been thoroughly backed into a corner, and the walls have closed in.
Not all hope is lost though. Chelsea are reportedly in talks with Drogba about one final spell at the club that watched the Ivorian turned into the phenom that he is. If the striker returns, John Terry will have at least one familiar face in the dressing room. It might not be enough to stave off the inevitable, but it will give Terry the room he sorely needs and the one he deserves.
After a life dedicated to everything Chelsea, it’s the least the club can do for him.