John Terry’s current injury has provided the former England international and his club a welcome respite from the intense scrutiny of the past 12 months.
The central defender is expected to spend a further two weeks on the sidelines with a knee injury, sustained in the 1-1 draw against Liverpool. This interlude in the Terry saga offers a convenient moment to take a step back from the maelstrom of inquiries, handshakes, evidence, and judgements to see whether Chelsea should starting making plans for their post-Terry future.
Although Terry was cleared in Westminster Magistrates Court of a racially-aggravated public order offence, Terry’s reputation has been irreparably damaged and in the long-term, an opportunity to end their reliance on the talismanic figure will be hugely beneficial for the club’s own standing. The coming weeks offer Chelsea the chance to lay the foundations for a defensive base formed in Terry’s absence and in David Luiz and Gary Cahill they have two hugely-talented central defenders with as of yet, unfulfilled potential.
Both in their mid-twenties, Luiz and Cahill can enjoy upwards of five years at the heart of Chelsea’s back-line, flanked by the exciting prospect of Ryan Bertrand and Cesar Azpilicueta in the full-back positions. In addition, 28-year-old Branislav Ivanovic can offer a versatile alternative across the back four, or play as a third central defender should Roberto Di Matteo choose to adopt the tactics employed at tonight’s opponents Juventus. Jeffrey Bruma, Patrick van Aanholt, and Sam Hutchinson, all currently out on loan, are Di Matteo’s other defensive options as Chelsea look to the future, while Ashley Cole remains a reliably expert left-back.
Upcoming fixtures against Juventus, Manchester City, Fulham and West Ham give Luiz and Cahill a great opportunity to assure Di Matteo that Terry should no longer be regarded as an indispensable player at Stamford Bridge. Both have given indications they can stake their claim as real successors to Terry’s place in the side.
The pair played the full 120 minutes of the Champions League final in Munich, with Luiz showing great character to take the Blues’ second spot-kick after Juan Mata’s miss. That evening could well be viewed as a pivotal evening for the defensive duo; with the club again having to recompense for Terry’s transgressions, they exemplified their huge potential under the greatest of pressures.
In addition, both have scored important goals, with Luiz netting in wins against Manchester United and Manchester City in his first season at Stamford Bridge, and Cahill striking a superb opening goal in Chelsea’s recent victory at White Hart Lane. Furthermore, both have good disciplinary records, with neither having received a red card for the club.
Clearly, it is too soon to be writing Terry’s footballing obituary; though his international career may be over, at club level, he is as integral as ever. His absence from the side has coincided with a downturn in results, with the Blues’ stumbling form epitomized by Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at West Brom. Consequently, it is likely that Terry will be immediately reinstated into the first team as soon as he fully recovers from his injury.
Nevertheless, this week will give intriguing answers as to whether Luiz and Cahill are ready to permanently displace Terry from the Chelsea side, or whether Di Matteo will have to consider bringing in replacements from elsewhere. The pair have the ability, temperament, and experience to succeed at Stamford Bridge. Crucially, they now have the chance.