John Terry: Defender of the realm

A very public affair robbed him of the England captaincy. But now that he has a second chance, can this street-smart son of Barking ensure it's his feet that do the talking?

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The Independent Online

After the television cameras have packed up and left the press room at Stamford Bridge, leaving just the newspaper reporters working on their match reports, it is not uncommon for John Terry to wander in after a game, often accompanied by his four-year-old twins in their Chelsea shirts.

It is here that the man controversially appointed as England captain this week for the third time in his career will stop to talk to journalists, shake hands and pat backs. Politicians would call it "working the room", and there is no denying that Terry is good at it. He has a certain easy charm about him. People smile when they see him. This, after all, is "Mr Chelsea", the team captain and one-club man.

It is noticeable that Terry does not just have a friendly word for those who know him best or have defended him in print. He also speaks to those who have been critical of him. There are successful politicians who would recognise that instinct. Terry is not just a tough kid from a Barking council estate with a gift for playing football. He is smart.

On Tuesday at the Grove Hotel, the country house retreat in Hertfordshire that the Football Association uses as the England team base, the mood was a bit different. Terry had been restored to the captaincy by his Italian manager Fabio Capello only 13 months after being stripped of the role. That was amid the scandal of an alleged affair with Vanessa Perroncel, the ex-fiancée of his former team-mate, and by then former friend, Wayne Bridge.

Terry knew he was in for a grilling but he made a point of doing an extra press conference on top of yesterday so that the whole week was not overshadowed by the issue. Capello had made a mess of taking the job from the injury-blighted Rio Ferdinand, and there was much disbelief that he would give it back to a man who, at times, appeared to have an ego that was out of control.

Yet, whatever your view of Terry, this was a confident performance in front of the press. His position was clear: he had nothing to apologise for. He was not going to offer a public pledge to have reformed or changed. The silent acquiescence of his team-mates – who had been given a chance by Capello to voice their concerns that morning – was his mandate. He hoped that would put paid to the stories about his unpopularity in the dressing room. He was back as captain. End of story.

As he leads his country out today for his 67th England cap against Wales in the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, so begins another remarkable chapter in the life of Terry, 30 years old, and now one of the most controversial figures in English public life. For some he is the poster boy for all that is wrong with English football. For others, the single-mindedness he showed this week is exactly why he is a natural candidate to lead the team.

Terry grew up on the Thames View estate in Barking, the same area that England's 1966 World Cup-winning captain Bobby Moore came from, and was a football prodigy. Originally a midfielder for the east London boys' club Senrab, he was moved back to centre-half as he matured.

Now in his prime, he fits the mould of the ideal modern centre-half. He is 6ft 3in tall and broad shouldered but athletic rather than bulky, as used to be the case for those in his position. It is his bravery in the tackle and his strength at heading the ball that is most often remarked on, but that alone does not get you far in football. Technically excellent, he can pass the ball with both feet. Manchester United courted him as a youngster but he joined Chelsea, then a club with a record for mediocrity.

He has had arguably as much success as any English player outside of United in recent times. When Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea in 2003 and transformed them from also-rans into one of the biggest clubs in Europe, Jose Mourinho selected Terry as his captain when he took over as manager the following year. Chelsea won two league titles under Mourinho, the club's first in 50 years. Last season Terry won Chelsea's first league and FA Cup double under the Italian manager Carlo Ancelotti.

That is the sporting side of Terry's life. The other side of the coin has been his car-crash lifestyle, breathlessly reported in the tabloids: the kiss and tells, the drunken nights out and the rumours of high-stakes gambling. But Terry keeps on coming back. As long as he produces the kind of performances that make him such a key player for Chelsea and England, he knows that there will always be forgiveness.

His bad boy reputation started with a high-profile court case in 2002 when he was acquitted of an affray charge for a fight at a London nightclub. It culminated in the Perroncel scandal last year and the allegation that he had an affair with her during which she became pregnant and had an abortion. The ensuing media firestorm cost him the captaincy; Bridge quit playing for England and their animosity was played out live on television when Bridge avoided Terry's handshake before Chelsea played Manchester City in February last year.

Terry has always been a handful ever since he was an eager apprentice at Chelsea on his meagre YTS salary, and who – when invited to train with the first team – was just as aggressive playing against established internationals as his peers. But it is a personal view that his split with long-term agent Aaron Lincoln, the best man at his wedding, in the summer of 2009 was a key moment in his career.

Lincoln was the kit-man at Chelsea when Terry was an apprentice and looked out for the teenager. It was Lincoln who came to support Terry every day in court during his trial for affray when the threat of prison hung over him. Afterwards Terry asked Lincoln to represent him. Lincoln could not keep Terry out of trouble all the time, but he made sure that he got the best legal and financial advice and he built relationships with reporters that served his client well.

They split in the summer of 2009 when Terry began to angle for a new contract from Chelsea when there was interest in him from Manchester City, who were by then financed by their Abu Dhabi owner Sheikh Mansour and able to pay higher wages than Abramovich. Terry got his new deal, thought to be about £150,000 a week, but Lincoln was frozen out of the negotiations. Lincoln still represents Bridge, one of many clients he picked up largely on the back of his work for Terry.

These days Terry goes it alone. He has played on through countless ups and downs yet he continues to thrive. This season, Chelsea are still challenging in the league and in the Champions League, the one club trophy still to elude him. He is England captain again. His marriage to his wife Toni has survived.

What now? He will certainly aim to go on playing for England until the next World Cup in Brazil in 2014. He must believe that he can play on as long for Chelsea. He has a track record for playing on through injuries or opting for painkilling injections to allow him to perform. That is part of what makes Terry the footballer he is but it also poses the question of what kind of physical legacy he has in store.

Off the pitch it is a different matter. As long as he remains an influential, well-paid star in the Premier League and for England, you have to believe that the more chaotic elements of his life can be held in check. It is not Terry the footballer you fear for. It is Terry after football that is the cause for concern.

A life in brief

Born John George Terry, 7 December 1980, Barking.

Family Son of Ted, a forklift driver, and Sue. Terry married Toni Poole in 2007 and the couple have four-year-old twins, Georgie John and Summer Rose.

Education Attended Eastbury Comprehensive school, before taking up football permanently aged 16.

Career After playing football for Sunday league team Senrab FC, Terry was selected for West Ham United's youth team before he joined Chelsea at the age of 14. He was made captain of Chelsea in 2004 and has led them to three Premier League titles, three FA Cups and two League Cups. He made his England debut in June 2003 and was appointed captain in 2006 but had it revoked in 2010 following allegations about his private life. He was reinstated last week.

He says "It's important you guys look at me on the pitch and see the kind of passion I play with."

They say "Always he is the same. He is a player that is himself a leader. This is really important. He is the biggest personality in the dressing room." Fabio Capello, England manager