John Terry has never been averse to the odd rallying cry and another was issued yesterday with the claim that Manchester United had reached their peak last season while Chelsea were capable of improving – and would do so this campaign.
"I don't think they have got another level to go to," the Chelsea captain said of the League champions and European Cup holders whose manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, has chipped away at their main rivals all summer. "They've had a lot of players in their team who have hit the peak of their form in the last two years. Rio's been awesome. Ronaldo's been unbelievable. I don't think we'll ever see that again. Rooney, Tevez, Giggs at his age – they've all been fantastic."
Losing the Premier League title by just two points, and the Champions League Final to a penalty shoot-out showed, Terry said, that Chelsea are very close to United despite "injuries and changes of manager" and, what he referred to, as "stuff at our place".
That "stuff" included one of the most fractious and chaotic seasons imaginable at a club which, given its ownership and demands, is always going to be close to being a soap opera. Terry claimed the traumas had drawn the players closer together, revealing that, amid the upheavals of Jose Mourinho going, and Avram Grant's brief regime, the squad had often thrashed out their problems behind closed doors and between themselves. "We were a nearly team last year," he said. "We almost won the Carling Cup, almost won the Premiership, almost won the Champions League. We were very close, but at the end of the day weren't good enough."
With the arrival of Luiz Felipe Scolari, however, who has brought a "different mentality" and a more "relaxed" atmosphere there is real hope that matters have settled and aspirations can be fulfilled with Terry referring to the signing of Portuguese international Deco as "awesome". "I never actually realised how good Deco was – I played against him four or five times – but he's probably one of the best I've ever played against and trained with," Terry added. The signing, plus the arrival of Jose Bosingwa and the continued pressing for the capture of Robinho and/ or Kaka means that Chelsea can, as their captain put it, "raise the bar".
Terry was speaking at the launch of a Premier League campaign to show more respect to referees which includes having an open dialogue between captains and officials, removing monitors from team dug-outs to stop the haranguing of fourth officials, and clubs and players signing up to a behaviour charter.
Both Terry and Chelsea have had their difficulties with referees in the past – a fact acknowledged by the 27-year-old yesterday – which exploded with Ashley Cole's petulance towards referee Mike Riley, who was also part of the launch, in last season's meeting with Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane.
"I think it's unfair to pick one person or one club out because we've all committed it," Terry said. "I could show you 100 videos of different players and different clubs committing offences. We've seen the way we want to go: to stop the surrounding of the referees. There are now rules. Last year, was there or wasn't there a rule where you couldn't surround the referee? I couldn't tell you. Now there's a rule. You can't. It's the captain who has that responsibility to go and speak to the referee."
* Chelsea are close to agreeing a deal to allow their 24-year-old defender Branislav Ivanovic to go on a season-long loan to Milan, with a view to a permanent deal. The Serbian arrived from Lokomotiv Moscow in January for £9.7m and hasn't appeared for the first team.