He used to clean Chelsea's toilets but Terry hopes to flush away Liverpool

Captain marvel predicts a backlash from his team in Cardiff tomorrow and tells Paul Newman he expects to lift the trophy
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The Independent Football

Chairmen, owners, managers and players have come and gone, but throughout the rise of Chelsea there has been one constant. John Terry has been at Stamford Bridge since he was a trainee and spent years simply trying to earn a regular place in the team. No wonder he could hardly hide his excitement at the club's Surrey training ground yesterday as he looked ahead to leading his side out in the Carling Cup final against Liverpool in Cardiff tomorrow.

Chairmen, owners, managers and players have come and gone, but throughout the rise of Chelsea there has been one constant. John Terry has been at Stamford Bridge since he was a trainee and spent years simply trying to earn a regular place in the team. No wonder he could hardly hide his excitement at the club's Surrey training ground yesterday as he looked ahead to leading his side out in the Carling Cup final against Liverpool in Cardiff tomorrow.

"To be made captain earlier this season made me feel very proud," Terry said. "I've been here since I was a kid. I've been right at the bottom of this club. I've cleaned boots, I've cleaned toilets. I've been ball-boy. Now, to be at the top, hopefully lifting trophies, is the ultimate."

Terry, who is still only 24, made his first-team debut seven years ago, but his career has had its ups and downs. For years, the presence of big-name international players made it difficult for the determined youngster from Barking to establish his place in the side. After only six appearances in his first two seasons, playing under Gianluca Vialli, he even went on loan to Nottingham Forest.

Claudio Ranieri, however, saw his football potential and Terry quickly became a key part of the Chelsea team, learning much alongside Marcel Desailly. By the time Jose Mourinho arrived as manager last summer, Terry was the obvious candidate to become club captain.

Nine points clear at the top of the Premiership, through to a domestic cup final and in the middle of a Champions' League tie against one of Europe's giants - Barcelona - things could hardly have gone better in Mourinho's first campaign. Having lost twice in the last week, however, against Newcastle United in the FA Cup and in the first leg of the tie in the Nou Camp, Terry knows how crucial victory could be tomorrow.

"People are saying that we've hit a blip," he said. "This is a chance for us to shut people up. We want to bounce back, win the cup and then focus on the Champions' League and the League. A cup final is a perfect stage for us to do that.

"When you're clear at the top of the League like we are - and like Arsenal were last year and Manchester United before that - people want to knock you down. It's a chance for you as experienced players and as an experienced manager to deal with situations like that and take the criticism.

"It can make you stronger. When you hear people saying you've hit a blip and criticising you for not scoring goals, imagine how the strikers feel. They want to go out there and score. It just makes you feel even stronger as an individual and as a team.

"It's important for us to win our first trophy. There is still a long way to go in the League and in Champions' League. If we get this one in the cabinet, people will stop talking and our confidence will grow and we'll hopefully make more progress in the two other competitions.

"Right from the word go, the manager and the players showed that we're in this competition to win it. A couple of other big sides didn't field their strongest teams, but we did. We have been to a lot of tough places and made some long journeys but we've got our reward now because we're in the final. But it will be worth nothing if we go there and lose, so we have to go there, forget about the last two games and just concentrate on one thing - winning.

"It's down to us to pick ourselves up after two defeats and this is a great chance to do it. Losing those two games has been a new experience for the team. Myself and Lamps [Frank Lampard, the vice-captain] have had to pick the players up in training. We've just told everyone that they have to forget about the Barcelona match and focus on the big game on Sunday."

It is a measure of the defender's progress that he is the player Mourinho has chosen to lead the team. He has come a long way since off-the-field incidents threatened his progress. Three years ago, Terry was involved in a court case (he was cleared of all charges) following an incident with a bouncer at a London night-club, and he was among a group of Chelsea players who brought shame on the club with their behaviour during a drinking spree at a Heathrow hotel only 24 hours after the 11 September terrorist attacks in 2001.

It was through no fault of his own, however, that Terry was dropped to the bench for Chelsea's last visit to Cardiff for a cup final. Terry had expected to start the 2002 FA Cup final against Arsenal but was named as a substitute because of an ear infection. He came on in the second half, only for Fredrik Ljungberg to sweep past him and score to seal Arsenal's victory.

"In the build-up to the game, there was a big question over whether William Gallas, Marcel Desailly or myself would miss out," Terry said. "I had played in the semi-final and I was hoping to play in the final. Then I woke up and literally fell out of bed because of the illness. The balance in my eardrums had gone. It just came on at random. Luckily, I haven't had it before or since."

Further disappointment came in last year's Champions' League semi-finals as Chelsea went out to Monaco, despite having taken a commanding position in the early stages of the first leg away from home. Terry is well aware that tomorrow he will be renewing his acquaintance with Fernando Morientes, who scored in both legs against Chelsea while on loan to Monaco. Having joined Liverpool from Real Madrid in last month's transfer window, he will be a major threat again for Chelsea.

"It would obviously be good to get revenge because we felt we could go all the way last year" Terry said. "He's a great player. He's got great experience. He's made for it. He's fantastic in the air. He scored a great header a few weeks ago. He holds the ball up well, and when you've got people like Stevie Gerrard coming late from midfield, it's going to be difficult. Hopefully, if we can stop players like that, we'll come out on top."

Terry sees a parallel between his own career and that of Gerrard. "I think the fans and the club appreciate it when you have a player who has come through the ranks," Terry said. "I think the fans appreciate that and I think they'd love to see me go up and lift the trophy. I've done all the shitty stuff and now I'm at the top as captain and that's where I want to stay. I want to stay as captain of Chelsea but I want to be a successful captain as well."

He added: "It's a one-off game. Anyone can win on the day. They had a good result in the week, so they're in a bit of form so they'll be full of confidence. We've lost two on the bounce so people might start favouring Liverpool a bit, but as a squad we'll go there full of confidence. We've had a few words to say to ourselves this week, but we have to pick ourselves up and bounce straight back."

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