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joetweedie | November 18, 2014

Twenty-Six

The John Terry story

There will be a point in the future when the number twenty-six no longer occupies the heart of the Chelsea back four. The number is venerated at Stamford Bridge; in many ways it embodies everything about the Chelsea that I know. It will only ever represent one person. Twenty-six is the captain, the heartbeat of this football club. Twenty-six runs through brick walls for this team. He has been an intrinsic part of the extreme highs and extreme lows of the Roman era: that is the beauty of supporting this football club. We rarely do things easily. It does not matter what era, that common trait is woven into the tapestry of how things are done here. I think above all else John Terry gets that.

"If you need help with anything, John is always there." - Juan Mata

Since making his debut in 1998, Terry has developed into a phenomenal player. Through determination and a desire to work harder than anyone else he became the best centre back on the planet. Plaudits from world class strikers, players and managers on the continent cemented his place as one of Europe's greats. His regular selection in the FIFPRO XI said everything that the English media did not want to. Domestically, there is a vitriolic defiance in giving him the credit he actually deserves. The last defender to win the PFA Player of the Year award, he could not even make the Team of the Season when he was patently the best centre back in the league.

Your perception of John Terry is, at this point, likely to be cast in stone. Much like this football club, Terry is imperfect. However, his trials and tribulations have never inhibited his commitment to Chelsea. In the face of adversity Terry seems to grow. With the world at his door he responded in the only way he knows how by scoring at Burnley. Absolutely nothing distracts him from winning. Think of the goals against Napoli, that glorious header at Highbury and that defining moment against Barcelona in 2005. When the chips are down and we are at our lowest Terry is always there with a moment of inspiration.

Social media mixed with footballers forms a highly volatile cocktail. Rarely does anyone greatly enhance their reputation via tweeting, and more often the opposite occurs. However, through Instagram, we are finally getting to see Terry for what he is beyond the media painted persona. Anecdotally Terry has always gone above and beyond with very little fanfare, but his recent exploits have finally garnered him positive headlines.

What captain goes out of his way to reply to an impassioned fan asking him to help solve issues surrounding atmosphere? Even beyond that, what captain actually takes time out of his day to call the fan and talk with him about what is going on? Terry's reaction to a fan who had recently lost her mother was particularly poignant. He is one of us.

As always Juan Mata says it best: "If you need help with anything, John is always there. And even if he has made mistakes, does he have to be reminded of them all his life?"

Every academy player has glowing things to say about him. It's not difficult to see why - in the most touching story, Terry famously lobbied the team to use their "discipline fund" to pay for a youth team player to go on holiday with his mother. The player was coming back from injury at the same time as Terry and the two formed a bond in rehabilitation. During the players first game back Terry turned up five hours before a training session to watch him play. You can read the full account here and I would strongly recommend you do so. These are not the acts of a normal footballer at any club. They come from being inherently Chelsea and growing up as part of this clubs transformation into a European powerhouse. He is the link between our past and the Roman era.

In a way Terry is the embodiment of why it is paramount for the club to produce its own players. You look at the likes of Dominic Solanke and Lewis Baker (amongst many) who have been here since they were babies. They get the club. You notice it in how they perform for their relative age groups and you can tangibly see the pride they have in stepping on the pitch as a first team player. When Terry goes who is here to uphold that link? Who gets what it means to play for the club they grew up in?

The intricacies of football support are as unique as the makeup of each team. Terry enjoys a particularly special relationship with the fans in this respect. Other fans who continually love to berate him (is that full kit joke still doing the rounds?) are mostly doing so out of jealousy. At any point during his career, Terry would walk into any side and take the captain's armband within weeks. As a footballer and as a leader no one really touches him. In a season where Yaya Touré is content to earn millions while sulking about the Etihad every weekend Terry reportedly took a pay cut to remain at the club. He is playing as well as ever and you get the feeling that anything is possible while he remains at the core of the club.

Far too many people let their view of Terry frame their thoughts on him as a player. Name me a list of centre backs who can hit 50 yard passes from either foot? Or name a centre back that has remained at such an elite level without genuine pace? Terry's intelligence, positional play and instincts are so rarefied that few will ever approach them. It is why Terry is playing at such a high level now. When you combine pure defensive acumen with the intangible will to win that Terry possesses, there is little to fault.

As a footballer and as a leader no one really touches him

The evolution of Terry from his bizarre treatment under Villas-Boas and the Interim One to defensive stalwart are again testament to his capacity to adapt and succeed. Whenever you feel that this might be the season that Terry is finally eased into a more rotational role, he exceeds himself time and time again. He was always the aggressor with his defensive partners. Countless times Terry would attack the man or the ball and simply win the contest. He was unbeatable when paired with William Gallas, as their record attests. Also, he was equally magnificent when playing with Ricardo Carvalho. Throw in the presence of Claudé Makélélé and you had a perfect trifecta of defensive ability.

Transitioning from this role over the past two seasons has been fascinating to watch. Instead of being the defender to engage, press and destroy he is now sitting back and cleaning everything up. There is a wonderful balance between him and César Azpilcueta on the left. The understanding is near telepathic and Azpilicueta provides the necessary pace to compensate if required. Terry is still physically dominant - he rarely loses anything in the air and his tackling is still outstanding. We now see him making far less crashing challenges. Instead he now wins possession easily through interceptions or simply being in the right position.

While other defenders naturally regress with age Terry has had a renaissance. His goal against Maribor this season showed that there is plenty of life in his legs yet. Terry has always been extremely technical, nonetheless rarely draws praise for this side of his game. A great passer of the ball off both feet, unexpectedly skilful and one of the biggest threats from set pieces the game has ever seen. Terry's goal tally stands above some contemporary midfield luminaries. It is often the nature of these goals that elevates Terry's status. There may never have been a more celebrated goal at Stamford Bridge than his header against Barcelona. Big goals, big moments and big games.

There have been frustrations as well. Moscow, the red card in the Nou Camp, missing out on Munich and then Amsterdam will all haunt Terry. However, we as a club are stronger for these disappointments and Terry in particular reflects this ability to overcome insurmountable odds. Terry may never quite get over the disappointment of Moscow, but that loss was a catalyst. The nature of that defeat stayed with the squad and manifested itself in the spirit that somehow saw Munich happen.

As a leader Terry is the greatest that the Premier League has ever seen. He was, unofficially of course, the captain for the first ever FIFPRO XI team of the year. The respect amongst his peers is tangible and perhaps this excerpt from an interview with Stiliyan Petrov talking before a charity game is most revealing:

"Before I was ill I knew John only from shaking hands before kick-off in matches, and as a fierce competitor. We had also met and talked at the meetings the Premier League hold for captains before the start of each season. But from the moment the news came out about my illness he was one of the first to get in touch and he has carried on being supportive ever since.

He doesn’t always have an easy time with the fans, but I have seen a very different man to that image. He has gone out of his way to encourage me at different times – always sending messages and texts while I was going through treatment, even though sometimes it might have been a month before I felt strong enough to return them.

When I was planning this game he was the first to sign up. I rang and asked if he could take part and he just said: ‘Tell me when and I’ll be there’".

Leadership will always be a quality inextricably linked to Terry and his Chelsea career. There has never been someone with the tenacity and will to win that compares with what he has regularly delivered. Consistently playing through injury, habitually taking painkillers to get through games and putting his body on the line with shuddering frequency are the hallmarks of Terry as a captain. I cannot recall a player in the modern era who has given as much to a club. Terry represents the level of effort any fan would give for just 5 minutes on the pitch.

Away from matches it is regularly reported just how much effort Terry puts into cultivating team spirit. Any new player is given Terry's number and told to call about absolutely any concerns they might have. How he is acting with Kurt Zouma currently could have a lasting impact beyond his years. For how Marcel Desailly worked with Terry, you would expect the current skipper to cover everything to ensure Zouma takes every ounce of knowledge needed to succeed him. Give the twenty year old 10 percent of Terry's defensive instincts and you are looking at a ridiculous prospect.

Terry's role is as much about playing centre back as it is about imbuing the current generation with the same type of spirit as the old guard in Munich. While he is incredibly important on the pitch his role now transcends that of a player. What the future holds for Terry is a mystery. Just how long does he have left? He is showing no signs of slowing down and he may actually be getting better as he adjusts to his new role. I would love him to finish his career here.

He is the greatest captain this club has ever had and certainly one of the greatest players. Seeing him lift the Premier League title at the end of the season would be a fitting tribute to his exceptional time here. Hopefully there are a few more years left in JT - we definitely need him.

"For John Terry, dying on the pitch would be an honour. You'd have to kill him and he might still play" - Luiz Felipe Scolari

John Terry is the captain of all team captains, he was born with the captain's armband on his arm.

Even without the band, it's as if he wears it anyway, and that's how it ought to be. 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. He pays close attention to the performances of the youth team, he keeps up, he knows all the scores, he misses nothing (although he often loses at ping-pong in the dining room - and when that happens, watch out).

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.

There is no room for second place; there can only be room for us. - Carlo Ancelotti

Words: Joe Tweeds | Design: Graham MacAree

About the Author

Plains of Almería Editor & WAGNH Features Writer.

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