James Lawton: Terry has shown supreme devotion this summer – but not to Chelsea

Tuesday 28 July 2009 00:00
Terry has ended speculation over his future
Terry has ended speculation over his future

Let the shirt-kissing proceed, as it did so copiously the last time a leading Chelsea player stared into the future and saw himself grey and gnarled but still passionate about his club, still gathering with fellow old geezers at the Bridge to cheer the boys who came after him, whole generations of them committed to a sacred loyalty rather than anything as grubby as the advancement of personal rewards.

This reaction to John Terry's weekend statement that a move by him to Manchester City was "never a possibility" is only excessively cynical if you forget the song and dance that preceded his team-mate Frank Lampard's similar declaration of undying fealty. Then it was Italian money that threatened the continued service of a key Chelsea player. But of course Lampard got a new contract – and a new lease on his passion for the club he has served, let us be fair, quite brilliantly over the years.

Terry, too, is a cornerstone of all that Chelsea have achieved under the financial patronage of Roman Abramovich. It means, surely, there can be no serious argument against the fact that, in a free society, football players, like talk show hosts and disc jockeys and other lions of the celebrity trade, are entitled to get the best deal out there.

However, it would be an act of great charity by such as Terry and Lampard if they gave us a permanent break from the doubletalk which now regularly punctuates so many of the agonising serials which in their cases delivered optimum results, another grandstanding opportunity to enhance their reputations as English football's supreme loyalists at the same time as getting their hands on loads and loads of extra money.

Why would either leave the established strength of Chelsea for anything but an extra few digits on their telephone number salary slips?

When Terry says there was never a question of his swapping a dressing room that contains such proven performers as Lampard, Michael Essien and Didier Drogba, who at times became unplayable after Guus Hiddink took up the reins from Luiz Felipe Scolari, for one occupied by Carlos Tevez, Emmanuel Adebayor and Shaun Wright-Phillips, he invites an inevitable question.

Why didn't he provide a little more clarification a little earlier in the story that has so dominated the arrival of the new coach, Carlo Ancelotti?

Partly, we are asked to believe, because it might have weakened his hand in a campaign to press Abramovich into a burst of big spending on behalf of Chelsea rather than various art dealers and auctioneers and the proprietors of a London sushi restaurant who, according to a new book on the excesses of oligarch spending in the capital, produced the raw fish which was sent to Baku at a cost of around £40,000 to satisfy a sudden yearning of the man who recently has been so reluctant to add to Stamford Bridge's playing strength.

We are now told that while Terry has not received any copper- bottomed assurances that Abramovich is about to entrust Ancelotti with a vast buying budget, it has been indicated that the captain will receive a new contract to replace the one that still has three years to run. This, on the face of it at least, perhaps does not strike you between the eyes as the acme of either loyalty or altruism – Terry, it appears, has recovered his status as Chelsea's best-paid player – but in view of his statement this reading of the situation may well be perverse.

Terry insists: "There has been a lot of speculation about my future and I want to clear this up once and for all. I'm totally committed to Chelsea and always have been."

Maybe we can all get a little sleep now, at least perhaps once we have squared away the fact that Terry has had the best part of a month to squash all speculation. That he has done now, and emphatically enough for City to abandon their plans to launch still another overture, is no doubt the best news Ancelotti has received since arriving in London.

Terry, like Lampard, is an authentic football warrior and his guaranteed presence is bound to encourage the belief among many that Chelsea are the team best placed by far to profit from any wavering by Manchester United in the wake of Cristiano Ronaldo's departure. However, it can hardly be said that he has been an agent for stabilisation in the first days of Chelsea's fifth manager in two years. He has, let's face it, been above all an agent for himself. This isn't to castigate Terry, just to remind ourselves of how modern football works, how loyalty is a card played as a first option by club and player until it no longer suits precisely their needs.

Perhaps the most salutary lesson for the shirt-kissing persuasion has come in Los Angeles these last few days, where it has been fiercely evident that quite a number of LA Galaxy fans, God save them, believed David Beckham when he announced that in exchange for a contract worth £28m he was going to conquer football's last frontier and win a permanent place in their hearts.

More fool them, you might say, for swallowing such unabashed tripe. Chelsea fans should perhaps take due warning. The next time they are played the loyalty card they might want to check it more carefully than ever before. They might just find it is rather dog-eared.

Ponting's got the kind of talent to silence critics

Of all the discouragement offered to the Australians on their plan to show up at Edgbaston on Thursday I'm probably least reassured by the contribution of Mr Piers Morgan, a former newspaper editor who now adds to a dazzling list of achievements in many branches of the communication business with a sports column utterly liberated from the need for either logic or consistency.

There isn't space here to list the jewels of perception that have graced this contribution to sporting letters, but one that does stand out is a marvellous excoriation of the England and Wales Cricket Board for its decision to fire Kevin Pietersen as captain. Pietersen, you may remember, was the author of arguably the most ludicrous shot ever played in Test cricket a few weeks ago in Cardiff. However, all pales beside this masterful categorisation of Australian captain Ricky Ponting. "Ponting," wrote Morgan (below), "is about as exciting as a pack of three-year-old Quavers. And most of the Aussies are just like him."

Excitement is no doubt in the eye of the beholder but, speaking personally, there is certainly a degree of it when a man who is generally considered the best Australian batsman since Don Bradman walks to the crease.

Some might also say that Ponting, who admittedly is not one of life's more garrulous individuals, has displayed considerable style since arriving here minus half a legendary team. In Cardiff, he batted stupendously and then reacted with admirable restraint to arguably the most half-baked and tawdry time-wasting in the history of Ashes cricket.

At Lord's he admitted that his team had been outplayed with scarcely a mention of umpiring which had victimised his team quite diabolically.

Ponting may be down but it is quite perilous to believe he is out. He is a cricketer of immense quality and determination. England, certainly, would be simple-minded to question his shelf life just yet.

Tainted times cast shadow over natural glory of Bolt and Contador

It is surely one of the most forlorn realities of modern sport that some of its greatest performers are prisoners of time. We were reminded of this last weekend by the unique sprinter Usain Bolt and the Tour de France winner, Alberto Contador.

Bolt encourages the belief, more than any of his predecessors, that he is clean with a huge, breathtaking gait that suggests not so much pure, or manufactured power, but natural gifts of a quite freakish dimension. Contador's strength in the mountains, his clear superiority over the rest of the field, brought his second triumph in an event which, so far at least, has not been seriously blemished by positive results at doping controls.

There is the horror, though. It lies in the menacing little phrase, so far. Bolt is approaching the anniversary of his triumphs in Beijing but the cloud over five of his Jamaican team-mates resurrects the fears expressed in China that anti-drug measures in the Caribbean are not the most stringent.

For admirers of Contador there has to be at least the passing reflection that three years ago Floyd Landis was stripped of his yellow jersey some time after the bandstand was dismantled on the Champs-Elysées. There may be a time when sports glory is not hedged with doubt, when it can be embraced in the first tumult of victory. But it is not yet. The clock ticks too loudly for that.

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