Luiz Felipe Scolari was not at Stamford Bridge for long, but the Brazilian did not need long to deliver judgement on his captain. "For John Terry," suggested Scolari, "dying on the field would be glory. You would need to kill him and maybe even then he would still play."
The problem for Terry is that his career is becoming defined by chains of events off the field, even if his current crisis does, for once, have its roots on the pitch. On the field he has never appeared in the slightest bit bothered by the storms that have regularly raged around him when he has left the dressing room and strode into our world. As a footballer he has remained one of the country's most consistent performers for the better part of a decade. When he was last stripped of the England captaincy – we have of course been here before – almost two years ago to the day, he responded by heading in Chelsea's winner against Burnley. In celebration he patted the club badge on his royal blue shirt, his face an unreadable mask.
Chelsea has always been his sanctuary, a club he has given his all to since the age of 12 (ignoring the brief flirtation with Manchester City and a telephone-number salary three years ago), and it may be in the difficult months to come, as he awaits July's trial, that Stamford Bridge and the shielded confines of the club's training around in Cobham become his sole footballing focus. Yesterday there were suggestions Terry did not want to wear a senior England shirt for a 73rd time, a turn of events that would surely bring sighs of relief around the Football Association offices at Wembley.
It was in a box at the national stadium, with a view of one of football's most famous stretches of turf, that Fabio Capello briskly informed Terry two years ago that he was being relieved of his captaincy duties in the wake of newspaper allegations of an affair with Vanessa Perroncel, the former partner of Terry's then good friend Wayne Bridge. A decoy vehicle had left Cobham in a failed attempt to distract the waiting media before Terry had been driven to Wembley. This time it was a telephone call from David Bernstein that did for him. The man described by Steve McClaren as possessing all the attributes an international captain needs is an international captain no longer.
"I'm convinced," said McClaren on awarding Terry the captaincy for the first time six years ago, "he will prove to be one of the best captains England has ever had." Terry promptly nodded in the first goal of McClaren's ill-fated tenure and kissed his armband in celebration. The boy from the same Barking estate that was home to Bobby Moore was leading on the pitch in the only way he knew, by example.
For some he became a leader for our times, a time when the game of football has never seen so much money and never seemed so obsessed with money. Terry has a reputation that sits snugly with an easily fostered view of modern-day players: the best car, flashest watch, and a seeming disdain for those outside the bubble. There have been a string of stories that have taken him to the front end of newspapers; fined by Chelsea for his behaviour in a Heathrow hotel with a number of other players in the wake of 9/11, urinating on the floor of a nightclub, fined for parking in a disabled bay, accusations (which he has denied) of selling tours of the Chelsea training ground and his agents touting (without his knowledge, he insists) the England captain for everything from bar weddings to barmitzvahs. And befitting the way the world works, there have been kiss-and-tell tales too.
But the tale they tell at Chelsea is a very different one. "Mr Chelsea" is how Frank Lampard describes his long-time team-mate. That Terry is a leader – and at club level an extremely effective one too – is undeniable. This is the man who in 2009 hared down from his seat in the stands – where he was watching due to suspension – and barged into the dressing room during half-time of a Champions League quarter-final with the home side two down to Liverpool. Guus Hiddink stood aside and Terry had his furious say; the game ended 4-4 and Chelsea went into the last four.
Terry first captained Chelsea in 2001. He was to succeed Marcel Desailly as the club captain three years later and has named the Frenchman, Tony Adams and Bryan Robson as the leaders he most admires. Closer to home, he has suggested Dennis Wise as the biggest influence on his captaincy. "Maybe I saw [strength in adversity] from Wisey," Terry once said. "He had little bits [of off-field problems] throughout his career but regardless of what happened he was always the best on the training pitch. He was always at the front of the pack, making sure he pulled people up with him. I learnt a lot."
Terry's ability to learn from others has not always been obvious, and there has also been a marked lack of appreciation of the wider picture; bubble-wrapped in the world according to JT. When he rushed to man the barricades in protest at Capello's running of England's World Cup base camp two years ago he appeared surprised to discover nobody crying "aux armes" in support.
"This is very big mistake," said Capello ominously, but then there has always been something about Terry that the Italian could not resist. When he took over he hesitated before settling on McClaren's great leader. And he went back to Terry again last year, the man who as a footballer has shown the discipline to collect only four red cards in close to 600 appearances for club and country. But, whether Terry buys into it or not, there is more to life than being a footballer.
Terry and England: Ups and downs
2006 Chosen to succeed David Beckham as England captain by Steve McClaren.
2008 Named captain by new manager Fabio Capello. Comes under pressure after allegations he took cash to lay on a tour of Chelsea's training ground, which he denied.
2010 Fails to obtain gagging injunction over alleged relationship with Vanessa Perroncel, former partner of team-mate Wayne Bridge. Axed as captain by Capello and Bridge refuses to shake Terry's hand before a game. Angers team-mates at World Cup by hinting at player unrest and criticising tactics.
2011 Restored to role of permanent England captain by Capello.
Denies making racist comments to QPR's Anton Ferdinand. The Metropolitan Police launch investigation. Left out of friendly against Spain but returns to captain side for 34th time against Sweden. The Crown Prosecution Service charge Terry with racially abusing Ferdinand. Case set for July.Reuse content