When looking back at John Terry’s footballing career, Chelsea fans can do so with misty eyes. One of the last bastions of English football, on the pitch he brought a bit of old school defending into the modern era and wore his heart on his sleeve when it came to club and country. But we must differentiate between Terry the footballer, and Terry the person.
Off the pitch, he was far from a role model, a man who allegedly slept with Chelsea teammate Wayne Bridge’s girlfriend, was stripped of the England captaincy and found guilty of using “abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour" which "included a reference to the ethnic origin and/or colour and/or race of Anton Ferdinand."
That racism and adultery off the pitch has rightly tarnished his reputation as a man, but he dealt with these problems and still performed at the highest level in the Premier League. Now this isn’t a heroic story of overcoming adversity, these were problems that Terry caused himself, but his dedication to the game was unquestionable.
Breaking through into the first team in the Premier League is a difficult task as an academy player, but it seems for central defenders, where experience is crucial, the path is even more unforgiving. For his leadership qualities as well as his footballing skills, Terry was named Chelsea captain for the first time at the age of 21.
He was a ready-made leader. The organiser at the back, even from a young age, who you wanted on your side more than anything else. He got to learn from some of the finest defenders in the game, in particular captain and World Cup winner Marcel Desailly, who taught him the ropes in the early 00s.
When the time came for the Frenchman to depart, and the incoming Jose Mourinho came in to shake up the Premier League, there was only one clear candidate to be named club captain. Terry was a young version of the defenders Mourinho would build title winning sides around. Lucio, Ricardo Carvalho, Pepe, he needed a centre-back who would do anything for the cause.
It’s no surprise that they were a match made in heaven and with his tough talking, the Portuguese got the best out of Terry. In his first season under Mourinho, Chelsea conceded just 15 goals as they won the Premier League, and JT won the PFA Players of the Year award by the end of the season. For context, the only defender to win it in the sixteen seasons since is Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk.
The trophies came in at a rate of knots. Back-to-back Premier League titles and FA Cups came in, but he also came back from tough times on the pitch. His penalty in the Champions League final in Moscow was meant to deliver Chelsea their first Champions League, yet he was relentlessly mocked after slipping and hitting the post. After his red card in the semi-final against Barcelona, 2012 was not his perfect redemption story but he fully deserved to get his hands on that Champions League trophy, even dressed up in his full kit.
For his country, he was part of a generation that will be remembered for underperforming, but despite this, he was a player that England fans could get behind. He was willing to put everything on the line - who can forget when he attempted to block a shot by diving face first at the feet of an opponent in the 2010 World Cup?
Having been voted in UEFA’s Team of the Year four times, won five Premier League titles and won the PFA Player of the Year, there is no doubt that John Terry - the footballer - is one of the finest players the Premier League has ever seen.