Terry can 'barely breathe' but will still try to shackle Messi
Chelsea captain is in the kind of form that makes him a hard man to ignore
Sometimes it is easy to forget that in just three months' time, John Terry will face a court case that will define his career, his life and his legacy as a footballer, simply because he plays as if nothing could be further from his mind.
Say what you like about Terry – and there are many who have – but he is approaching the end of another season in the kind of form that makes him such a hard man to ignore. Throw in the two cracked ribs which he has admitted to sustaining in the first leg of Chelsea's triumphant Champions League quarter-final against Benfica, and his pledge to play through the pain if necessary, and you have another classic Terry storyline developing.
It is a personal view that the serious nature of the racial abuse allegations, which he will answer in West London magistrates court on 9 July, make it inappropriate for Terry to play for England at Euro 2012. In the end, the Football Association stopped at taking the captaincy away from him and in doing so triggered the series of events that led to Fabio Capello's departure.
Once again, with the maelstrom enveloping his life, and injury problems taking their toll, Terry has emerged undaunted in the last few weeks as one of the key figures of Chelsea's mini-revival. At times, he even looked as if he wanted to be the manager too but, all joking aside, how does he do it?
Against Benfica on Wednesday night it was only after Terry was substituted that the Portuguese side scored. When he plays alongside David Luiz, Terry talks endlessly to the Brazilian, ordering him into position. With the less voluble Gary Cahill next to him, Luiz allowed Javi Garcia to run off him for a free header.
The statistics speak for themselves too. Since the turn of the year, Chelsea have conceded 20 goals in 21 games but only four of those goals have been conceded when Terry has been on the pitch. He has played just 11 games in that period, a relatively low proportion for him, having first struggled with a knee injury and now having to contend with the cracked ribs sustained in Lisbon.
Terry is 32 in December and unlikely to win many popularity contests held outside of Stamford Bridge. The expectation is that sooner or later the physical sacrifice he has made over the years will take its toll and he will no longer justify a place in the Chelsea or England team. But not yet. In fact there will scarcely be a more important player in the side that faces Barcelona over two legs than the man who has beaten them twice as a Chelsea player.
Terry said on Wednesday night after the game that he was having trouble breathing with the injury and that he had "never had anything like that before". "I don't know how long I'll be out. I will have a scan and we will see where we go from there. It's just horrible. When you get one in the ribs, you can't do anything about it, you can't treat it, you just have to let it heal, but I can get through games definitely."
Note the caveat that, bad though it is, he does not expect to miss any games. He would not countenance missing the two against Lionel Messi in which Terry will come up against the greatest player in the world in his new central role. When Chelsea played Barcelona in the semi-final in 2009, Messi was still operating largely as a winger but come 18 April he will be Terry's responsibility.
In Barcelona, they have a less jaded view of Terry than is the norm in English football. He is remembered as the man who, in the aftermath of the controversial elimination in 2009, when referee Tom Henning Ovrebo lost the plot, came into the away dressing room at Stamford Bridge and shook the hands of all the Barcelona players and staff.
Then, Pep Guardiola described Terry as a "true gentleman" for the gesture. There is an acknowledgement that although Terry is a different kind of player to the Barcelona template he has a useful role to play. Xavi has compared him to Carles Puyol, and while he was not entirely complimentary, it is evident that Terry is an individual Barcelona have noticed over the years.
"The Terry and [Jamie] Carragher type players are necessary," Xavi said. "We have Puyol here. Technically he is not the best player in the squad but physically he is spectacular and he is a great defender. Players like Terry and Carragher are necessary but they have to adapt to the team as opposed to the team adapting to them. In some ways what these players do has more merit because to me it comes naturally."
When Chelsea beat Barcelona 4-2 in March 2005 at Stamford Bridge, it was Terry who scored the fourth goal after Ronaldinho had brought the score back to 3-2. He played in the home win over Barca, then defending champions, in the group stages in October 2006. Needless to say, the current Barca side is better than both those teams.
There is no greater test for a centre-back than marking Messi, who has 58 goals this season and is closing in on the total of 67 scored by Gerd Muller for Bayern Munich in the 1972-73 season, a record at a top-flight European club. There will be many expecting Terry to fail, or even willing his humiliation. But, however you regard him, it is a fair bet he will not make it easy for Barcelona's famous No 10.
Case for the defence
Without John Terry this season, Chelsea have conceded 1.19 goals per game. With him in the side they have conceded 0.96.
Chelsea are unbeaten in their last 11 fixtures that Terry has started in all competitions.
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