One of my favorite sayings is 'old soldiers never die, they just fade away'. Apparently, it's a line from an old song, but it was made famous by US Army General Douglas MacArthur, who used it as part of his closing statement in his retirement speech. The concept itself applies in football (and most other professional sports) almost as well as in the military. We've seen it first hand recently with Didier Drogba, for example. As it turns out, we're not likely to see it first-hand with John Terry, despite the many assumptions to the contrary. John had warned us many times before of course — saying that he won't hesitate to move abroad to look for playing time if his Chelsea career ends before he himself deems it time to hang up his boots — but it still came as a shock when he confirmed earlier today that, at least as of right now, there are no plans to offer him a new contract for next season.
One does wonder a bit about the timing, considering that he apparently found out over a week ago, but I'm not sure what to make of that other than add to the long and fascinating list of things (both good and bad) that Terry has accomplished in his Chelsea career. We'll have plenty of time to dissect and reminisce later; for now, let's see what the two protagonists of this story had to actually say.
As it tends to be the case with breaking news being delivered on The Internet one tiny bit at a time, there were plenty of conclusions to jump to prematurely. Who called whom? Is Michael Emenalo the devil himself? Is John Terry suddenly ten years younger? Etc.
Here are John Terry's actual words, as relayed by noted Chelsea fan and journalist Dan Levene.
"To be honest, I was in last week before the Arsenal game and it's not going to be extended. It's my last run in the FA Cup so I want to make it a good one. It's a big season for me and I want to push on — not just in this competition but in the Premier League as well. I knew before the Arsenal game so mentally I've kind of accepted it. We just have to move on and climb the radio."
I'm assuming "climb the radio" means to put the word out that he's available and still willing to play at some non-English club.
"They said that when the new manager comes in, things might change. It's a no at the minute. I needed to know now like I have done every January and sometimes it takes a couple months to get done. Unfortunately it was a no. It's not going to be a fairytale ending, I'm not going to retire at Chelsea. It's going to be elsewhere which took me a couple of days to get over. But like I say, I knew before the Arsenal game and my performance isn't going to change — the way I train, what I give for the club. I want to give everything and finish on a high, on 100 per cent good terms with the club."
"At the minute" — more on that later.
"We spoke about my legacy and coming back to the club when I finish. The most important thing now is to get us up the league."
JT has talked about coaching and earning his badges, etc many times before. It's basically assumed that one day he will manage Chelsea and none of this changes that assumption.
"No we didn't get into it. I didn't feel as though I was playing great in the first four or five games of the season, like everyone in the team, and the performances showed that. But since then myself and everyone else has picked up back to where we are. All I can do is keep my head down and plug on because it'll be my last year at the club."
"The club will move on. No player is ever bigger than the club. Ideally I would have loved to stay, but the club's moving in a different direction. No doubt they'll sign one or two great center-backs. I want to come back as a Chelsea supporter in years to come with my kids and see the team doing great. Unfortunately that's not going to be with me, but I want to see the team do well. It's going to be my last year and I want to go out at the top."
This is true. We've already got Papy Djilobodji. We probably don't need anyone else besides him, but maybe we'll sign somebody else, too.
"No. I couldn't do that to the Chelsea fans. I couldn't play for another Premier League club. It will be elsewhere for sure. I don't know where and I leave that to the people in charge. It certainly won't be in the Premier League."
This we've heard many times before as well. QPR, then? MLS?
"My agent made the call like we do every January. He got told over the phone and I called to set up a meeting the following day. The club immediately set that up which was great of them to do that. I wanted to hear it face-to-face. They told me. Unfortunately it's not going to be. I feel though I'm in great nick, I'm playing great and I've got a couple of years to go. It'll just be elsewhere."
I feel this last bit is especially important. Basically, everything has happened exactly as it's happened every January of the past few seasons, with Terry's agent starting negotiations over the latest one-year contract extension. Except this time, Chelsea said "no". And then they said "no" to Terry himself, in the follow-up meeting that he requested and the club granted. The temptation is to get very angry at certain individuals here, but there's very little out of the ordinary in how this whole thing was handled. In fact, if there is anything that's a bit strange is Terry revealing the decision out of the blue and revealing it two weeks and two games after he first learned it. That part seems a bit odd. Read into that what you will. JT of course knows he's a fan-favorite (duh!), so I certainly don't fault him for playing the fan-sympathy card.
Meanwhile, Chelsea tried to do a bit of damage control.
"John requested a meeting with the club the week before last and, in that meeting, he asked about the possibility of an extension to his existing contract. John was advised that, while no new deal was currently on the table, that situation could change in the coming months."
"The club has the utmost respect for John and everything he has helped us achieve to date. He is a fantastic servant to Chelsea and a superb captain. As such, the club will keep the channels of dialogue open."
-Chelsea FC; source: Guardian
Chelsea are certainly playing up the "at the moment" angle that JT himself mentioned as well, though the way he's talking, the decision certainly seems final. Not to mention, it's tough to envision any new manager coming and considering the 35-year-old club legend as intrinsic to his plans. And while his leadership and dressing room presence is probably irreplaceable, he claims he wants to continue playing for a couple more season, and it's likely that he doesn't mean that in terms of being just a bit-player at Chelsea.
In any case, this is probably the beginning of the end of John Terry's nearly two decades-long Chelsea playing career. At least we get several months to say our proper goodbyes.