Terry towers with belief of a born leader

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The Independent Online

They were brothers in arms at the end just as they have been throughout this astonishing season. At the final whistle John Terry and Frank Lampard, Chelsea captain and vice-captain, turned and walked together to the corners of Stamford Bridge in triumph. And in relief.

They were brothers in arms at the end just as they have been throughout this astonishing season. At the final whistle John Terry and Frank Lampard, Chelsea captain and vice-captain, turned and walked together to the corners of Stamford Bridge in triumph. And in relief.

It was impromptu and, despite the 14-point gap opened up at the head of the Premiership, a little premature. But who could blame them. Certainly not Jose Mourinho, who waited patiently by the touchline until they had wandered away to join the rest of their team-mates. The manager held their heads in his hands and passed on a few words too. There was more bonding going on than at a glue salesmen's convention.

Terry and Lampard have stuck together throughout the past eight months. Not far behind them, as they crossed to the Matthew Harding stand, stood goalkeeper Petr Cech. All three will be at the Grosvenor House hotel in Park Lane tonight making up half of the shortlist for the Professional Footballers' Association's Player of the Year. It is no coincidence that all three are the only Chelsea players to have started all 34 Premiership matches.

Terry is expected to collect the award, just as he picked up the Player of the Month award, for March, prior to kick-off yesterday. "That would be special," Terry said. "But as long as one of the Chelsea boys wins it that is all that matters." There has even been talk of sharing it with Lampard, last year's runner-up.

It is a team ethic that Terry has thumped away at all season. In some that appears fake, forced, trite but in Terry it is genuine and not least because such a belief is the fuel that feeds him. He is a team player, a captain, a natural leader and one who needs that understanding to help his sometimes fragile confidence grow. It gives him maturity.

After all here is a young man, still just 24, heading the world's richest and, at present, most high-profile football team. And here also is a young man with his history of troubles. Three years ago, Terry was, of course, involved in a court case (he was cleared of all charges) following an incident with a bouncer. He was also among a group of players who brought shame on the club with their behaviour during a drinking spree at a Heathrow hotel after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

But that is all history now. The admiration for him runs deep at Chelsea, and throughout the Premiership. He has learnt his lessons. Nevertheless, when Mourinho arrived he was inclined to hand the captaincy to Lampard, two years Terry's senior and the manager's favourite. Instead he decided on a players' ballot and they chose Terry. He has not let them down. And neither has Lampard who, despite the unevenness of yesterday's team performance was there to slide in the crucial second goal. It was his 16th of the season and each and every one has been vital.

Terry's contributions yesterday were more conservative and understandably so. Rarely, indeed, did he venture forward. There were few of the marauding forays which have seen him plunder eight goals - half of which have been in Europe.

With Ricardo Carvalho unusually hesitant he also had to contend with the nerves of Glen Johnson at right-back and the lumbering Robert Huth on the other flank - until he was withdrawn and Damien Duff fitted into a position he had never played before. Indeed when Terry was booked for a crashing, mistimed tackle on Moritz Volz just before half-time, it did not appear to be his or Chelsea's day.

But he is nothing if not a fighter. This was his 200th Chelsea start and as with the previous 199 his determination could not be questioned. Certainly the Fulham striker Brian McBride - a muscular presence himself - was constantly made aware of the challenge while Terry was there to harangue, cajole, encourage and, above all, dig deep into the reserves if what Mourinho called "character".

Afterwards the captain was asked about the celebrations. "It was just a way of showing our appreciation to the fans," he said. "We know we still have to get a win [to be champions]." There's no doubt he will make sure they get it.

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