For the past week Carlo Ancelotti, the Chelsea manager, has been singing the praises of his captain, John Terry. Yesterday the fans at Stamford Bridge joined the chorus, as Terry returned to action for the first time since being sacked as England captain.
"He is my perfect captain, for sure," said Ancelotti who gave the defender a prolonged bear hug at the final whistle. "We were under a lot of pressure and we needed him to play with determination and concentration. He is working for the club and I am very happy."
The response from the supporters at Stamford Bridge was even more adoring. Ever since he made his debut for the club in October 1998, Terry has enjoyed a special place in the hearts of the regulars at Stamford Bridge by dint of being a member of that very rare species, a successful product of the Chelsea youth team.
So as he made his 440th appearance for the club – and also his first at the Bridge since it emerged he had had an affair with Wayne Bridge's former girlfriend – there was never any doubt that Terry would receive the full support of the fans.
They sang his name over and over again, to the tune – if you can call it that – of "Stars and Stripes Forever". They cheered him every time he touched the ball. They waved flags and banners adorned with messages of support. As the players lined up before kick-off, a loud chorus of "There's only one England captain" rang around the stadium. How right they were. His name is Rio Ferdinand.
Outside the ground before the game, one Chelsea fan was happy to pose for photos with a flag bearing the message "John Terry, the real lionheart of England". In this corner of south-west London, support for Terry was never in doubt whatever Fabio Capello might think.
Terry responded with just the kind of performance that had won their hearts all those years ago. He did not put a foot wrong, playing with calm authority and typical bravery as Arsenal enjoyed the lion's share of possession but produced very little. He also won the header that led to Chelsea's opening goal after just eight minutes. Terry slipped his marker, Thomas Vermaelen, and powered a header which Didier Drogba volleyed into the net.
Arsenal kept Terry and his fellow Chelsea defenders busy throughout, with the home side pinned back into their own half for the majority of the game. Any suggestion that Terry's focus might be lacking following the events of the past week or so would surely have been exposed in what proved to be a rigorous examination by the Arsenal forward line.
Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, was impressed. "Terry is strong enough to make the difference between what happens on the pitch and what happens off it. Sometimes to play football can be a diversion to what is happening. Some players can be stronger on the pitch. It is a place where they can be away from it."
Terry suffered a dead leg with half an hour to go when he took a heavy knock to his thigh from goalkeeper Petr Cech but carried on with heavy strapping. The home fans responded by taunting the Arsenal support: "One leg and you still can't score."
At the final whistle Terry saluted the four corners of the ground, beating the Chelsea badge on his shirt. He then ripped off his shirt and threw it to fans in the Matthew Harding stand, before removing his captain's armband and handing it to a supporter. One might have thought that, in the circumstances, it was something he might have wanted to hang on to.Reuse content