It’s the international break and again it comes tinged with a hint of regret that John Terry isn’t representing England.
A recent ankle injury picked up against Swansea City has seen the 35-year-old ruled out of Chelsea‘s games leading into the internationals, so the chances of him representing the Three Lions this weekend, regardless of his retirement, would have been slim.
It doesn’t mean we look at England’s back line without a sense of longing and regret; a sense of thinking what could be were Terry still representing his country.
Sure, in the twilight of his career, that England are still to replace him with a player of similar influence is a big concern. Terry has been four years retired from the international game, and still England continue their search for another defender as capable.
It’s the same for Chelsea. His overall retirement from the game has been on the cards for some time; every season we’re asking if it’ll be his last. Even as 2015/16 came to a close, we were asking if we would see him again at Stamford Bridge in Chelsea colours. The club waited to the final game of the season to offer Terry a new contract, which he would sign a few days later.
Still, there’s no sign of him being replaced, and Chelsea face a massive task to identify the player who can take them forward.
Terry has become an essential part of the Chelsea fabric. Such is his influence and legend, the club simply won’t feel the same when he does eventually depart.
So how did he become such a giant of the game at Chelsea? Where did Terry’s journey into greatness start? Speaking with some former team-mates, Chelsea supporters and also trawling through the archives of Terry’s impressive career, Bleacher Report sets out his journey to the top, breaking down the key aspects of what has made him the player and icon he is.
The Young Pretender
John Terry came very close to not making it as a Chelsea player. He was a midfielder by trade, and with more talented players around him, he was fearful of being released. But then came the epiphany, when Terry was dropped back into defence to cover for injuries.
“At the start of my first YTS season in 1997, I wasn’t selected and I was on the bench for the first three games,” Terry once remembered in a Chelsea magazine interview. “Then, in the fourth game, we played Barnsley at home and one of our centre-halves pulled out. The youth-team manager, Ted Dale, asked me to play there, we won 3-0 and I was probably man of the match.
“It just moved on from there for me. Everyone said how well I’d done, I tried it for a little bit in training and it just seemed natural to me. I stayed at centre-half for the rest of the season and I went on a run of about 10 games where I was just doing really well in the position, then I made the progression into the first team.”
A year after that switch, Terry made his Chelsea debut against Aston Villa in the League Cup, replacing Dan Petrescu as a substitute on October 28, 1998. He make a total of seven appearances that season.
The Loan Star
After those baby steps when making his debut, Terry became more and more involved in the first team. Still, with World Cup winners Marcel Desailly and Frank Lebouef ahead of him in the pecking order, he needed a loan spell away from the club in order to get more game time.
Gianluca Vialli sent Terry to Nottingham Forest for three months, where the young defender helped pull Forest clear of a potential relegation battle.
Jack Lester was a striker who had not long signed for Forest at the time and recalls an up-and-coming player who was determined to make a name for himself.
“I was impressed from the moment I saw him train,” Lester recalls. “Even though he was still very young, you could see that he was a leader. I remember going home and speaking to my friends about him, telling them that Forest had this young lad on loan who would play for England. I was totally convinced about how good he was.”
Chelsea also kept tabs on Terry’s development, with then-assistant manager, Ray Wilkins, calling him often after matches.
“He used to call John a lot,” Lester says. “One time he left him an answer phone message, which John played me. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but Wilkins was just giving him some praise as it was after another game when we had kept a clean sheet.
“I just thought to myself that if Ray Wilkins is keeping tabs on him, calling him, then Chelsea must really hold him in high regard. I realised then that Chelsea had big plans for John.
“I hadn’t heard of John before he came to Forest, so it was things like that that showed who he was and where he was going.”
Terry has never shirked his responsibilities as Chelsea captain. When the chips have been down and the Blues desperate for some leadership, he has been there to carry them through. On the pitch, Terry has been a warrior for Chelsea.
Equally, off it, he has been just as impressive, helping those around him. Whether that be his current team-mates or those he looked up to when he was coming through the ranks, Terry has shown his respect and regard for them.
David Lee was one of the senior professionals at Chelsea when Terry was a YTS player and remembers how he always tried hard to impress those above him.
“As a boot boy, John was just excellent,” Lee explains. “Whatever I wanted, whatever I needed, he would be there to get it. At the same time, we used to look after him. I was sponsored by Adidas at the time, so would get him tracksuits and boots.”
Terry has never forgotten those days, repaying the friendship of his former team-mates even now.
“He always mentions to me that he appreciates how we looked after him as a kid,” Lee continues. “It wasn’t just me. Eddie Newton and Dennis Wise always helped him, and as Dennis was on the most money, he gave him more financially.
“At the League Cup final against Tottenham in 2015, I asked John if I could get a couple of tickets to take my daughter to the game. I asked for two, but if he could get three, I would take my wife. John just said to leave it with him and then called me during half-term, saying I should go to Cobham to collect the tickets.
“He told me to bring my daughter, and he gave her a tour around and had lunch with her. When I went to pay him for the tickets, he said ‘No, I’ve never forgotten what you did for me as a kid’.”
If ever there was one game to pinpoint Terry’s influence at Chelsea and his character, it is the clash with Barcelona at Stamford Bridge in 2004/05.
That game, coming in the last 16 of the Champions League, was when Jose Mourinho’s side really matured; it was when Chelsea as a club well and truly arrived at the top table. They had been hinting at it, but going toe-to-toe with one of Europe’s best sides, they showed they could not only live with them but beat them.
Had it not been for Terry’s late header to seal a 4-2 victory—5-4 on aggregate—it would never have been the case.
“Captain’s goal from John Terry,” was the call from the commentary box. And it was, as he rose to head home Damien Duff’s corner.
Terry relived the moment in his book, My Winning Season.
“It seemed too congested in the middle of the box, I knew Duffa’s cross would be swinging out,” Terry wrote. “I gave my marker a little shove and tried to take him into the crowd and he got caught up in it a little bit.
“I was free of him, and I came back towards the near post and made contact with the ball. It wasn’t a powerful header. Sometimes when you meet the a ball with your head, you know it’s in straight away, but it wasn’t the case with that one.
“I didn’t think there was enough on it. I thought I hadn’t got enough power on it. But I kept watching it and no one got in the way of it. I saw [Mateja] Kezman trying to get a little toe on it so he could claim it, but he couldn’t reach it either. And then it was in.”
That game set up Chelsea for the next decade.
The Man of the People
It was a moment away from the cameras but one that truly shows how Terry has embraced his role as Chelsea captain.
The Blues were facing Bayern Munich in the 2004/05 Champions League quarter-finals, and with the Germans not bringing a mascot to Stamford Bridge, it meant 10-year-old Joel Saunders would be missing out as Chelsea’s mascot for the game.
UEFA regulations dictated that both sides had to have a mascot or there would be none. Hearing this, and seeing a distraught Joel as he walked into the stadium, Terry refused to accept it.
“I can’t remember exactly what JT said, but it was along the lines of him pretty defiantly telling the officials that I would be coming on the pitch with him,” Joel recalls.
“John told my dad to bring me to the tunnel entrance just before the teams were due to go out and he would bring me with him on to the pitch.” Which Terry did, in front of more than 35,000 fans inside Stamford Bridge, refusing to accept UEFA’s stance.
Joel’s dad, Andy, says it’s a moment that defines him as Chelsea captain. “I’ve always loved JT for that,” he says.
As for Joel, it’s a memory that he remembers fondly, more than a decade on from the event.
“To have him fight for me to be on the pitch was amazing,” he adds. “I remember him really taking the time to talk to me and make me feel important, even though it was clearly a huge match he was just about to go out and play.”
Source: Extra Juice