"I love it at Chelsea. I've been here since I was 14, and I'm 28 now. All my friends are here, so I'm going to stay for ever unless Chelsea tell me I've got to go, which maybe one day they will."
Eight years after uttering those words that truly reflect John Tery's love for Chelsea Football Club, the countdown to that dreaded day has began for the defender. Chelsea and their captain revealed in a joint statement on Monday that he would be leaving Stamford Bridge at the end of the season.
The announcement obviously attracted millions of tributes from Chelsea fans all over the world, but it also gave way to a feeling that an era was about to end, not just at Chelsea, but also in the footballing world.
'Captain, Leader, Legend' reads an ever-present banner on the stands of Stamford Bridge. It perhaps comes as close as possible to describing the phenomenon that Terry has been, but still not close enough. Maybe nothing in written words will ever do justice to what Terry represents.
Many credit Jose Mouinho for being the architect of the Chelsea we see today, but it's impossible to comprehend where Chelsea and even Mourinho would have been had it not been for a defender like Terry. He was the perfect man to play in and marshal a low-block defensive set-up that the Blues so effectively used in the last decade.
In 2005, Terry was at heart of a Chelsea side that won the Premier League with a record 95 points and the soul of the defence that till date is the tightest defence in the history of the Premier League. The Blues' rearguard just conceded 15 goals that season and Terry was rightly awarded the PFA Player of the Year, becoming one of just five defenders to have won that accolade.
Ten years later, Terry was once again winning the league with Chelsea under Mourinho and despite being at the age of 34, played every minute of their league campaign then. The Chelsea captain is just the second player in history of the league to achieve that feat.
He didn't win the PFA player of the year that time as it was scooped by Eden Hazard, but Terry remained central to Chelsea and their bid to win silverware. He was a rock in the Chelsea backline once more and the position he assumed while he thwarted away opponents crosses at will came to be called as the 'John Terry' position by then.
22 years, 713 appearances, 66 goals, 14 major honours.
Our captain, leader, legend. pic.twitter.com/7SIYO5Jta8
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) April 17, 2017
“There have been a lot of great centre-backs in Premier League history, but I think 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," Jamie Carragher once said about Terry.
"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.” added the former Liverpool man.
It wasn't just his partner in trade but his arch opponents of yesteryear that rate him among the toughest defenders they have ever faced. “He’s big, good in the air and he’s powerful. But he is a very intelligent footballer who reads the game so well. You come off feeling like you’ve been in a real game.” said Wayne Rooney, recalling his contests against Terry in the many Chelsea-Manchester United duels.
“The toughest opponents for me are the defenders who are tough in the way they play, where you can’t see a way through. Paolo Maldini and John Terry are two of the toughest men I have met on the field.” said Ronaldinho, who faced off with the Chelsea captain quite frequently while playing for Barcelona.
It would be wrong to compare Terry to Maldini, but one can't help but feel, they were two of the greatest defenders in the era gone by. Modern-day football now sees defenders lot more involved in building play up than in the past and it's all about what they can do with the ball than without it. Hence the game perhaps has been derpived of the pure, hardcore defenders, which often assumed the magnitude of a brick wall for strikers trying to find a way past them.
There was something more to Terry's game and that was goals. He is the highest goal-scoring defender in the Premier League history with 40 goals, a tally equal to that of Jamie Vardy. In addition, the Chelsea captain scored some memorable goals in cup football, none more important than his winner against Barcelona in 2005 Champions League.
Many call Terry 'Mr Chelsea'. It's not just because he has spent almost 20 years at the club, nor because he's captained the side more than anyone in their history, but because the position he occupies in the club. Right from mentoring youth players, to comforting new teammates and helping them settle in, Terry has always played a massive role at Chelsea. In difficult times, he also had the ear of owner Roman Abramovich. He was the glue that held the club together, he was more than a captain on the pitch and a leader off it.
“John Terry is the captain of all team captains, he was born with the captain’s armband on his arm. 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," former Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti wrote in his autobiography The Beautiful Games of an Ordinary Genius.
The Italian manager also revealed how Terry kept track of all happenings of the youth team and followed every player in the youth side. "Being part of this club is his mission, that’s how he was made. He pays close attention to the performances of the youth team, he keeps up, he knows all the scores, he misses nothing," Ancelotti wrote in his autobiography.
“He works twice as hard as everyone else, he has the sense of responsibility of someone who runs a company, a people, a philosophy that above all has to win.” the Italian added.
From taking on the responsibility of playing in goal after Chelsea had both their goalkeepers injured in a Premier League game at Reading in 2007, to putting his head in the path of a striker's kick just to clear the ball, Terry always played with a lion's heart.
"If the ball is there to be won I will go for it, whether with my head or whatever, and if it means us scoring or stopping a goal, I won't think twice," said Terry in an interview once.
Such was the desire to not just be there for his team, but also lead them to success, that he came back from hospital just hours after being stretched off unconscious in the 2007 League Cup final against Arsenal just to celebrate the triumph with his teammates after the game. He wanted to see it all through.
With Terry set to leave Chelsea at the end of the season, one wonders if will we ever get to see a player with such an extraordinary combination of talent, strength, leadership, commitment and loyalty to a winning cause for a particular football club. Terry wasn't alone in an era of such players, but for the collection of qualities he had, he was among the very best, if not the best.
When he leaves Stamford Bridge for whichever pastures, he will not only bring down the curtain on a glorious era at Chelsea, but also draw to a close an age in football when a single player formulated the face, heart and soul of a football club.
Terry was special in more ways than one. One can't help but think he was one of a kind footballer, and whose exploits on and off the pitch at Chelsea will be reminisced for ages to come all across the footballing world.
Updated Date: Apr 18, 2017 11:38 AM