Comment: John Terry is the best centre-half in the Premier League, says Jose Mourinho – so why have Chelsea not offered him a new deal?
Compared to the campaign to get Lampard signed up, there has been nothing
There was a presentation on the pitch to John Terry and Frank Lampard at the end of the warm-up before Chelsea’s home league game against Manchester United two weeks ago, to commemorate them both reaching the milestone of 600 appearances for the club. Doing the honours were Ron Harris and Peter Bonetti, the only two men who have played more games for Chelsea than Lampard and Terry. There were handshakes, a couple of mementoes handed over and a photographer to capture the moment.
Lampard was a substitute that day and happy to take his time. Terry, however, was already in the zone and desperate to leave the pitch and get on with his pre-match routine. This is a man, after all, who admits to being ruled by superstition, to the extent that he requests the kitman moves his car into his lucky match-day parking space if it is taken when he arrives at Stamford Bridge.
Tonight at the Etihad, you will be able to spot the old habits. But when every opposition fan is waiting to seize on his every error, before television scrutinises it over and again, who can blame him for developing the coping mechanisms over the years?
He has played every minute of every Premier League game this season, confounding those, myself included, who thought that after Rafa Benitez busted him down a ranking or two last year, his new status would stick. In some respects he is as crucial as ever to Jose Mourinho’s team, the Chelsea 2.0 of 2014. Mourinho has described him as the best central defender in the league this season.
Debatable, but you could make a case. Terry’s street-smart reading of the game is as sharp as ever. He can pass the ball and for all the big hits over the years, his athletic powers have not dwindled too drastically. Even Mourinho admitted he did not expect Terry to perform as he has done, “not after the season he had last year”. “I would like to see him playing this way,” he said, “until the end of the season.”
Ah, the end of the season – when Terry is out of contract at the club he joined around 20 years ago. There is still no decision on whether he will, at 33, even get a one-year deal. Yet compared to the Stamford Bridge campaign to get Lampard signed up last season, there has been nothing like the same discord in support of Terry’s future. Most Chelsea fans clearly see it as a given. Terry, one imagines, would like them to be a bit more vocal.
The bottom line is: he has earned it. When Mourinho challenged him to earn a new deal in pre-season, when he said that Terry understood that their old bond could mean no favours in the new era, even he would not have imagined that by the end of January, Terry would have played in every second of the league campaign.
When he secured his current deal five years ago Terry was closer to joining Manchester City than many would care to admit. As Lampard had demonstrated the previous summer, with Internazionale, it was useful to have a suitor in getting a new contract at Chelsea then. Terry got a five-year, £160,000-a-week contract that was top dollar in 2009, although the bar has been raised much higher since.
In those days, Terry could go straight to the top. Now, Roman Abramovich’s representative at the club is Marina Granovskaia and for the meantime she is delaying the decision on Terry’s future. The man himself is having to bite his tongue and bide his time. But how long can he be relied upon to do so?
The original alpha in Mourinho’s first title-winning Chelsea team, Terry is approaching 10 years as club captain waiting to find out whether he will stay at the club and what kind of deal he will be offered. It must grate. Relatively speaking, multi-millionaire footballers are no different to the rest of us. They want to know their future, they have children settled in schools and liabilities to meet. It is certainly a long way since the day in 2005 when Terry put an arm round Abramovich’s shoulders and brought the Russian on to the pitch at the Reebok Stadium to celebrate winning the league.
Once English football’s most controversial figure, Terry has kept a low profile since his five days at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in 2012 on racial abuse charges over that exchange with Anton Ferdinand. Cleared in court, he was charged by the Football Association, retired from international football and found guilty by the independent regulatory commission.
Since then, his aim has been to get that new contract at Chelsea and it is coming to the crunch now. As of Saturday he is able to negotiate a pre-contract with clubs outside the Premier League. He has sold the extravagant new house he built in Surrey to a member of the Omani royal family for a reported £16m.
The message in that story – front page of The Sun last month – seemed to be that here was a man with options, one who could stay or go and whose finances were in good health after all those stories of multiple mortgages. There was interest last summer from Galatasaray, an intriguing option given that the only other high-profile Englishman currently playing in Turkey’s Super League is Anton Ferdinand.
How Chelsea handle the end of Terry’s career has always been a thorny subject. The most successful captain in the club’s history and one of its greatest players, it should, in theory, be a fond farewell. There is no doubt that the fans love him. The embarrassment he has caused the club, however, over various incidents, of which the Ferdinand episode is top, is impossible to forget.
As with so much around Terry, the picture is blurred by the two conflicting verdicts from the court and the FA. Either way, if Chelsea were going to take a moral stance on that, the time to do so was when he was found guilty by the FA.
There have been plenty of players signed by Chelsea over the years who have been tipped as the man to take over from Terry. Perhaps Kurt Zouma is that man, or perhaps the club will sell David Luiz in the summer and, flush with a new contract, it will still be Terry at Stamford Bridge next season, obsessively re-setting his socks and shin-pads during breaks in play.
Even if he does stay another season, the wait that he is being forced to endure must be difficult to take. There is yet to be any mention of a testimonial either, although there is no doubt Terry will want one. It is all getting rather awkward for club and player, but there is no doubting the former holds all the cards.
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