Crisis for Chelsea as Terry faces three months out

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The Independent Football

Chelsea's defensive crisis took a dramatic turn for the worse last night when it emerged that John Terry has undergone an operation on his back that will rule the club captain out of action for three months, according to the same leading sports injury surgeon who examined Wayne Rooney's broken metatarsal during the World Cup finals.

The news is also shattering for Steve McClaren, who now faces the prospect of his England team travelling to Israel for their crucial Euro 2008 qualifier on 24 March without their inspirational captain. The surgery to remove what a Chelsea statement described as a "sequestrated lumbar intervertebral disc" took place in France yesterday and has left, their manager, Jose Mourinho facing months without his captain.

While Chelsea have claimed that Terry should be back in a matter of weeks, Professor Angus Wallace, the country's leading expert in sports injuries and the man the Football Association flew to Germany to examine Rooney last summer, said it would be closer to three months. Wallace, who is professor of orthopaedic surgery at the Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham, told The Independent that Terry had suffered, in layman's terms "a major slipped disc".

It means that Mourinho will now expect the Chelsea chief executive, Peter Kenyon, to pay whatever Manchester City ask for the 18-year-old Micah Richards, whom he sees as the ideal short-term replacement for Terry. While Mourinho has long admired the teenager, who played right-back on his England debut last month, he now sees him playing as a converted centre-half in Terry's absence.

Richards, rated around £18m by City, would be eligible to play in the Champions' League in Terry's absence - Chelsea face Porto in the next round in February and March. City have already relieved Chelsea of £21m for Shaun Wright-Phillips.

They would like to take the player back on loan, but otherwise would look to realise the full value of Richards, with 20 per cent of any fee due to his former club Oldham.

In the mean time, however, the loss of Terry can scarcely be overestimated. In the three Premiership games he has missed Chelsea have conceded six goals and, without the long-term injured Petr Cech in goal, they have looked vulnerable at the back for the first time since Mourinho took over in 2004.

Wallace, a former chairman of the National Sports Medicine Institute, said that Terry had suffered a common problem in which the soft inside of the disc had been pushed out the back of the disc and "into the spinal canal". He said that Terry would have had a "minor invasive operation" through either keyhole procedures or a small cut.

"If they have removed the whole sequestrated portion of the disc he is likely to make a full recovery," the professor said.

"Most people don't get back inside three months from a sequestrated disc. You would be talking in Terry's case about right at the end of the season. He shouldn't have to wear a brace, he will be mobilised."

Although Terry has undergone what is regarded as a common procedure, his back injury has been diagnosed relatively late. Even on Tuesday Mourinho said that he still did not know what the exact nature of the injury was and it seems that the club have acted swiftly after the diagnosis in France.

Mourinho also has worries over Joe Cole's fitness, with the midfielder still wearing a special medical boot to protect the stress fracture to his foot.

Cole's return to action is scheduled for February and Arjen Robben's fitness hangs in the balance once again after he pulled a muscle in training last week.

The loss of Terry, however, is likely to force Mourinho's hand in the transfer market.