Sam Wallace: Chelsea's next big problem - what on earth to do with outcast John Terry?
Put it this way: you no longer see those summer paparazzi pictures of Terry taking holidays on an Abramovich yacht
A taxi for Rafa Benitez. A new contract for Frank Lampard. A sign of life from Fernando Torres. There is so much for a Chelsea supporter to be preoccupied with of late that they could be forgiven for failing to notice the next storm that looms on the horizon, a distant squall for now but increasing, with potential for damage. The question is, quite simply: what the hell is happening to John Terry's career?
It is a stunning fact, given his near ubiquity in the modern Chelsea team, that the club captain has made just eight starts since October as he has battled a knee problem that has refused to go away. Three of those starts have come in the last five games, against Brentford, Sparta Prague and Middlesbrough but not on Saturday, when Terry was an unused substitute in the 1-0 home win over West Bromwich Albion.
He has one year left on his contract, so there is not the immediacy in comparison to Lampard's situation but, make no mistake, the reckoning is coming. Terry last signed a contract with Chelsea in the summer of 2009, the big £150,000-a-week deal that came in response to all that interest from Manchester City, and their then manager Mark Hughes, but since that time the club have been notably less interested in securing his future.
If they can let Lampard drift out of contract, the man beloved of the Bridge, the mostly squeaky-clean half of the club's Essex boys brotherhood, then do not think twice that they will not do the same to Terry.
For years it was assumed that Terry and Lampard had the run of the place with the owner's blessing, and it appears that may well have been right. But things seem to have changed in the years since both signed their most recent contracts, Terry four years ago and Lampard in 2008.
Put it this way: you no longer see those summer paparazzi pictures of them taking holidays on one of the Abramovich yachts.
Injury has been Terry's problem this season, but then injuries have always been part of Terry's life. In general he has played through, strapped up, injected, whatever it takes. Whatever your feelings about the man, there is no doubting his effectiveness as a defender and there were some excellent performances last season up to that rush of blood at the Nou Camp.
Having left Terry on the bench on Saturday, Benitez announced that the player was indeed fit to play. A day earlier, at his Friday press conference the interim first-team manager said that Terry would only play when he, Benitez, decided that Terry was fit to deal with the intensity of his training sessions.
Terry's way in the past when injuries have been an issue has been to throw himself back into games to regain that match fitness. If he cannot get into the side, he cannot get match-fit. Now Benitez is saying that it is he who will decide whether Terry plays or not and, at the moment, the mood is that he is by no means an automatic first choice any longer.
The picture has been muddied of late with Terry inevitably being named among the malcontents around the Benitez regime. But that is a sideshow to the real question of Terry's long-term future to which Benitez, Mr Interim, is irrelevant. Whether or not Terry gets a new deal this summer goes to the heart of his relationship with those such as Abramovich and the technical director, Michael Emenalo.
So what next? In the space of 12 months he has lost the England captaincy (for the third time), won his court case against allegations of racial abuse, thrown in his international career and lost that disciplinary commission hearing into Football Association charges of racism in the Anton Ferdinand episode. The only constant through all that, indeed, throughout his turbulent career, has been the unwavering support of Chelsea.
And what support that has been, including the court-room character reference in his favour from the club chairman, Bruce Buck, a senior corporate lawyer himself who attended every day of the proceedings. Crucially, Terry, an embattled figure in recent years, retains the support of the Chelsea fans with whom his relationship is still as strong as the famous banner in homage to him proclaims.
If Chelsea decide this summer that they are prepared to listen to offers rather than face the pain of that contract ticking down day by day, where does Terry go? There are some people whom it is difficult to disentangle from the institution. If Lampard is Chelsea's Mick Jagger, ageless and with a steadfast refusal to lower his standards, then Terry is their Keith Richards – still living the dream and totally unapologetic about it.
The biggest names in the global phenomenon that is the Premier League have options when it comes to their retirement. For Lampard it might well be the Los Angeles Galaxy and a pleasant semi-retirement schooling the college boys at the wrong end of the MLS pay scale. For Terry the MLS may yet be an option but one can only assume that American sport will look upon that commission guilty verdict on race charges unfavourably.
For many who do not support Chelsea, the question of where Terry goes next will simply be a case of hoping the further the better. For the Chelsea support, it is likely to be a painful experience. Terry's refusal to ask fans to back Benitez in his Saturday programme notes, demonstrated that the club captain will not damage that relationship with the support at any cost.
And above all, of course, injury notwithstanding, Terry, like Lampard is still capable of a big performance when called upon to do so, one capable of lifting Stamford Bridge and reminding them of better times. This one, as Chelsea are surely aware, could run and run.
Arsenal takeover bid hits a power failure
The £1.5bn takeover bid for Arsenal from persons unknown in "Qatar and the United Arab Emirates" certainly has hit all the notes when it comes to supporter discontent: more money on transfers, a return to "the feel of the North Bank" (whatever that means) and, unprecedented in takeovers, a reduction in ticket prices. One wonders if that would just have been a freeze on ticket prices until the club thought of that themselves.
The problem, as ever, with these sort of bids (see the "Red Knights" and Manchester United) is bringing the selling party to the table to do business. Given that the first response from Arsenal yesterday was to declare that Stan Kroenke is not considering selling it would seem that it will need a huge offer to make him change his position. The sources quoted around the bid say they will not go any higher. So where does this leave us?
We didn't vote for this winter World Cup mess
No sooner do Queen's Park Rangers return from the Gulf with all sorts of stories trailing in their wake than the real scandal from that region emerges. The admission yesterday from the Fifa general secretary, Jérôme Valcke, that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar could be moved to the winter because of the health risk of holding a tournament in 40C-plus summer temperatures felt like the opening move in delivering some very bad news.
It is a mess. You might have thought an event as magical as the World Cup finals would be impossible to ruin but Fifa is doing a good job of it and is taking about three years of domestic football down with it.
Valcke says there needs to be an "agreement between the football family" for a winter World Cup to go ahead, as if it is everyone's problem, rather than the 24 men who voted for it.
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