After five days of gloom at Chelsea, John Terry yesterday attempted to mend the club's morale by taking players and staff on an epic paintballing expedition in the Surrey countryside. But there was no danger of a Dulux assassination attempt on the controversial coach Henk Ten Cate – the Dutchman was not among those invited on the trip.
It was typical of Terry's no-nonsense leadership approach that after the Carling Cup final defeat to Tottenham, which was preceded by his training ground row with Ten Cate, there was a three-line whip among players to attend yesterday's event. Among those blasting one other with paint were the younger contingent of club masseurs and physiotherapists. Even the club photographer was told to put down his cameras and join in.
Terry had originally planned the event as part of what he hoped would be the post-Carling Cup final celebrations but, despite Sunday's 2-1 defeat, he was determined not to let the opportunity for some team-bonding to pass. He has taken the Chelsea players on similar activities before, including karting, and believed that after three days of dark mutterings about his relationship with Ten Cate – as well as Avram Grant's long-term position – it was just what the club needed.
The prospect of around £150m-worth of international footballers chasing each other around woods in goggles and overalls may be enough to bring any club chief executive out in a cold sweat, but Peter Kenyon could see the benefits and gave the plan his permission. The players are all fully insured against injury and, for the top earners like Terry, the value of that insurance is up to £15m.
Grant and his assistants, Ten Cate and Steve Clarke, were not invited, although Grant's predecessor, Jose Mourinho, was never a participant in Chelsea's past paintballing trips either. The relationship between certain senior players, including Terry, and Ten Cate is never likely to be smooth, regardless of attempts by the club to play down Saturday's row between the pair. Some Chelsea players believe that the training sessions Ten Cate has put on simply do not compare with what they were used to either with Mourinho or at international level.
While Ten Cate made a conciliatory gesture towards Terry in a Dutch newspaper this week when he said that both of them were "emotional" characters, some Chelsea players believe that the problem is bigger than that. They feel that during Saturday's training session Ten Cate was showing off to the club's owner, Roman Abramovich who was watching on the sideline. When Terry struck a pass a split second after Ten Cate had blown the whistle to stop play, the Dutchman went on the attack and took on the most influential player at Stamford Bridge.
The paintballing trip is another indicator that Terry, for now at least, remains the top dog at Chelsea's Cobham training ground. After all, this is the man who invited every single member of the club's staff to his wedding last summer. It will be curious to see how long the peace lasts between Terry and Ten Cate if the Dutchman is to stay at the club longer than this season.
Ten Cate may yet be hanging on privately to the hope that Chelsea will bring in his old friend Frank Rijkaard in the summer, although The Independent's revelations today from Rijkaard's brother Herman suggest that this is unlikely. Although there were many in Ten Cate's native Netherlands who were surprised when he moved from manager at Ajax to No 2 at Chelsea, it is clear that his role at Stamford Bridge is very different to that of most Premier League assistant managers.
To say that Grant takes something of a peripheral role in training is, according to certain sources, "an understatement". He keeps to the outside, much as Sven Goran Eriksson did in his England years, giving Ten Cate and Clarke full reign to take the sessions. It is that level of control that persuaded Ten Cate to take the job, although the 53-year-old is forbidden by Chelsea to give any interviews to the English press.
Unlike more famous managerial partnerships – such as Brian Clough and Peter Taylor or Sir Alex Ferguson and Brian Kidd – at Chelsea it is the assistant Ten Cate who provides the fire to Grant's ice. As a manager, Ten Cate has been sent to the stands by referees while in charge of Sparta Rotterdam, Vitesse Arnhem and last season at Ajax. He has also demonstrated that, working within a complex political club such as Chelsea, he is liable to fall out with other ambitious figures.
At Ajax, whom he left three months into his second season in October, Ten Cate believed he was undermined by the club's technical director Martin van Geel. He was unhappy with the signings of players such as Kennedy Bakircioglu, Jurgen Colin and Laurent Delorge. Most of all, he was infuriated by the sale of Ryan Babel (to Liverpool) and Wesley Sneijder (to Real Madrid) so late in the transfer window that he could not replace them. Elimination from the Champions League qualifiers, and then the Uefa Cup, meant that the Ajax board also wanted rid of Ten Cate.
In respect of his short fuse, the man who won the Champions League with Rijkaard at Barcelona in May 2006 was always likely to cause waves at Chelsea. There are those at the club who think that will be a good thing for the famous names and egos on the playing staff. But as Terry led the charge yesterday, Ten Cate will have been left in no doubt who rules the roost at Chelsea for now.