The nature of John Terry’s relationship with Chelsea was once very simple: when he was fit he played and even when he was not fit, a lot of the time, he played too. A divisive figure away from Stamford Bridge, the club’s training ground at Cobham was his domain. He survived and thrived in the years that saw Chelsea’s transformation from Premier League elite wannabes to European champions.
Now, the feeling is very different for one of the most controversial figures in recent English football history. The question is where does he go next, and will it even be this summer, a year before the end of his current contract?
It remains an extraordinary part of another extraordinary season at the club that – amid all the wailing over Rafa Benitez’s appointment and the refusal of the club to renew Frank Lampard’s deal – there has been so little focus on Terry. His two goals against Fulham at Craven Cottage in the 3-0 win on Wednesday night were a further reminder that the Terry issue has still not been addressed.
This time last year he was hurtling into the summer uncertain whether he would be part of Roy Hodgson’s Euro 2012 squad and facing court on racial abuse charges. The anniversary of his sending-off at the Nou Camp is on Wednesday. This is not a man accustomed to being out of focus at the back of the shot. Yet ever since Jose Bosingwa blocked him out of the front row at the moment of Chelsea’s trophy lift in Munich last May, Terry has been fading from the picture at his club.
A new contract has been forthcoming for Ashley Cole, but not for Terry. His closeness to Roman Abramovich appears to have been overstated for years. The re-appointment of Jose Mourinho could yet see Lampard remain at the club, although there are no such certainties for the club captain.
Terry’s options? The big two in Turkey, Galatasaray and Fenerbahce, are both understood to be interested. While the Süper Lig has always attracted big names at the end of their careers, the acquisition of Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder by Galatasaray, and their progress to the last eight of the Champions League, has given them greater credibility in the eyes of players. Fenerbahce, like Chelsea, are in the last four of the Europa League and have the likes of Dirk Kuyt and Raul Meireles.
Turkey’s big two could also pay Terry the money that he has been accustomed to earning since signing that £150,000-a-week, five-year deal in 2009 when the interest in him from Manchester City was usefully public. By today’s Premier League standards it is much less than the more recent big earners. As a one-club man thus far, Terry may well feel, unlikely as it may sound, he has not realised his full earning potential in the way others have.
His two goals against Fulham will mean nothing to Benitez when it comes to picking his side for Sunday’s game at Anfield, especially now that the interim manager has the rhythm of his rotation policy established. Recent results have been mixed, four wins and three defeats in the last seven games, which includes the second leg against Rubin Kazan, but Benitez is not about to change now.
It is quite possible that Terry will have to watch from the bench against Liverpool, as he did at Wembley on Sunday in the FA Cup semi-final against City. There was a moment against Sunderland this month when Terry was ready to come on before David Luiz recovered from an injury and played on. Terry reluctantly pulled his tracksuit top over his head and sat down.
“I accept the rotation system completely,” Terry said after Wednesday’s game. “I can definitely play twice a week, three games a week if need be. I don’t know where that arose from. I’m fit, I’m training every day and have been for the last three months, so I just want to set the record straight.
“I’m available, but at the same time, if the manager chooses not to pick me and decides to go with the others, there is not a problem because I’m Chelsea through and through and I want nothing more than to get Champions League football. If that means me playing, great. If not, I will be the biggest supporter in the dressing room.”
Asked whether it would be hard watching on Sunday, he said: “A little bit. Obviously myself and Frank [Lampard] have a good record there, but I don’t have a problem with the manager choosing other players in front of me. If he decides that’s his favourite pair then so be it. It’s down to me to work hard and maybe prove him wrong.”
It is no longer a case, however, of proving Benitez wrong. He has his de facto first and second string with some crossover but they are broadly distinguishable and Luiz and Branislav Ivanovic are first choice. None of Benitez’s Chelsea predecessors since Claudio Ranieri dropped Terry, although few have had quite such good alternatives.
The debate over Terry often ignores the fact that he remains a very accomplished two-footed defender. For a manager, like Andre Villas-Boas, who believes in the “high-block”, high line, then, yes, Terry can get caught out by the ball in behind. Yet Villas-Boas still picked Terry. When it comes to a player capable of nicking the ball away from a striker and marshalling a defence, there are few better.
This season, injuries have robbed him of the opportunity to play and the development of Ivanovic’s and Luiz’s partnership has reduced the team’s reliance upon him. Gary Cahill, who could be back in contention at the weekend, is another issue.
“I don’t know where that [Cahill’s imminent return] puts me in the pecking order, all I can do is train hard, work hard and when I do get a chance, play well,” Terry said. “The goals are an added bonus for me. There are no complaints. If the manager is straight with me and tells me, that’s totally fine.”
He was also asked in that interview whether he felt Luiz could be a future Chelsea captain, and answered diplomatically that he felt his team-mate could fulfil the role. But that the question alone was asked will tell him just how rapidly he is losing his once exalted status at the club. And that will hurt.