Football, in general, is a lot like war, obviously in a much less brutal way. Not just for the victories, defeats and occasional bloodshed but also for bearing an uncanny resemblance to the change from “Battle” to the more sophisticated “Art of Warfare”. When we study history, we study about Alexander the Great, Julius Ceasar, Jenghis Khan. We study how they sweated it out on the battlefield with their men themselves. But the changing needs with changing times now mean that today’s Leaders are Generals who control the war from a room. No disrespect to them as they had to earn that position through their own hard work. But sometimes when it all gets too mundane, too boring and too technical, there appear certain people to restore our faith in the power of passion and sacrifice – certain people who will prefer to be the leader and suffer with his army on the battlefield – JOHN TERRY is one of them.
One of the finest defenders the Football world has ever seen – impeccable positioning, picture-perfect tackles, unmatched aerial abilities, composure with the ball and a knack for finding the crucial goals – but let’s give those technicalities a bit of break today, shall we? Today is not about appreciating John Terry, today is about celebrating him, today is about acknowledging the John Terry Spirit – the spirit that enabled him to put his body on the line, the spirit that made us believe that the game is important, the spirit that does not let us believe that Football is merely a matter of life and death, it is something more than that, it is about immortality and honour.
If football fans are asked about their favourite John Terry moment, I am sure that even a lot of non-English Chelsea fans will pick this moment – John Terry, diving full-fledged, almost praying that the ball comes and hits him in the face to keep a one-goal lead intact.
And that is nowhere near the most dangerous stunt he has ever pulled off, or has he? A boot straight to the face in an attempt to score with a diving header against Arsenal in the 2007 League Cup Final. He lay there unconscious for several minutes as Gary Lewin rushed in and prevented his tongue from blocking the airways. With no memory of the ten second half minutes he played, John Terry came back from the hospital the same day to take part in the team celebration. He did not have to go for that header. There was no way he was gonna avoid that boot from Diaby. In 2006, in an interview with Simon Garfield, Terry was asked: “I sometimes get a bit scared as I watch you go in with your head for knee-high tackles. Other players would perhaps think: ‘There’s a World Cup coming up and I might take it a bit easier.'” Terry’s reply? “My dad always told me when I was growing up never to go half-hearted into a challenge. Always 100 per cent, fairly. If you go in half-hearted then that’s when you really can get injured. I get paid by Chelsea to play and I’m going to do that to the best of my ability. The World Cup is in the back of my mind, but first things first – Chelsea, right until the last game. And that will continue for years to come, to keep dominating English football and keep winning the Premiership.” That is just the way John Terry is – honest, committed and not willing to mince his word.
And he is not the epitome of perfection either. A man who has made things difficult for himself more often than not – In fact, John Terry’s career has a lot been like his penultimate game for Chelsea against Watford. A crucial goal, an immediate mistake, ultimately a win, and also another, yes, you guessed it, tackle with his head on the ball to snatch it right off the boot of Cleverley after he was pushed to the ground by him – just like he has done all his career – Brilliant performances, on-field or off-field silly mistakes that had almost nothing to do with his playing abilities and then, rising from the graveyard dug by himself.
The images of the UCL 2008 Final comes to mind first. With an opportunity to win the match, John Terry slipped and immediately realized what he has done. He cried like a baby that night as Manchester United lifted the title.
He would have to wait 4 years for another final appearance from Chelsea, suffering some close defeats in the meantime but when the moment really came, John Terry was not there. Reason? The silliest of challenges resulting in a sending-off. Chelsea’s Guardian Angel had been a rock for them throughout the season but at the most crucial moment of them all, Chelsea fans were left staring at another elimination without him. Thankfully though, they did not have to cover their eyes in horror this time. Some John Terry-sque dedication and courage saw the team over the line in Camp Nou and Allianz Arena. And Terry, fully dressed in Chelsea’s first team kit finally had his hands on the coveted trophy. It was not the only mistake and resurrection though. On a small scale, he has done it some other times too – the most notable one being the 3-3 draw against Everton when he scored for both the sides on his 700th match for Chelsea, the second being an equalizer for Chelsea in the 98th minute to protect Chelsea’s 23-year old record of not losing to Everton at Stamford Bridge.
Moving on to his England career, it has been another rollercoaster ride. The only difference here being that it has come with very little prizes – definitely a puzzle to solve for the football experts. How has a Golden generation of English football, comprising of players who will walk into most teams of the world has failed so miserably collectively? In 2006, there was only one Englishman in the FIFA World Cup All-Star Team – John Terry. 4 years later, allegations of an extramarital affair would see him lose his armband. On the field though, he continued to be a leader figure. The lack of the armband was made up by his dedication to the cause, the famous diving header moment appeared here, in the third match of the World Cup, days after a rift between Terry and the-then English Manager Fabio Capello went public. No surprise that Terry himself started it after the second match, much like he has instigated most of his own problems. An apology and a heroic performance later, Terry called upon the English players to form the celebratory hurdle – a gesture that had “You Can take John Terry out of captaincy, but you cannot take captaincy out of John Terry” written all over it. In “The Dark Knight Rises”, Christian Bale had said, “A hero can be anyone.” John Terry showed, “A Leader can be anyone.” Capello acknowledged – “He’s a leader. I have no problems with any of my players. I respect them and they respect me. John Terry’s performance today was really important. He was like a leader on the pitch.” The next year, Terry was officially back as captain yet again. Then just like that, allegations of racial abuse appeared out of nowhere and Terry got himself in more trouble through his statements, making a simple situation complex. The FA heard only that part of his statement they wanted to hear and chose to ignore the other part. Terry was stripped of captaincy yet again, leading to Capello resigning. Under Roy Hodgson, England managed to stay for just 4 matches in the Euros. It was “Enough is Enough” for Terry and he retired from serving the three lions.
He is a mortal after all. Being produced in court for allegedly hitting a bouncer before getting cleared of the charges 8 months later, allegations of extramarital affairs, allegations of racism and losing England captaincy for the same, winning it back again before losing it permanently, retiring from International football in disgust, seeing his club team drop to the depths of shame in 2016 before being reduced to a substitute in the 2016-17 winning campaign, he has seen it all. It could have very easily been the story of another talented young Premier League Footballer biting the dust. And that was even more possible as The first time he had to stand trial was as early as 2002, at the age of 22-the perfect age for the progidal son. He responded by becoming one of the best defenders in the world within 4 years.
So, what made it possible? His skills? Maybe. His commitment to the cause? Definitely. In 2006, when Cech and Cudicini went off injured during a match, Chelsea, with no substitute remaining, turned to John Terry. He did not have to make any save for the little while that was left but that moment said a lot. A leader is what his team needs him to be (Sorry for another subtle Dark Knight reference, but this one wasn’t deliberate, trust me). If it needs him to be a goalkeeper, John Terry is up for it. How about, if it needs him to be a benchwarmer? ”
‘Sometimes there’s nothing you can do as a player. I started the first four games of the season and get injured and we lose at home to Liverpool and Arsenal away and the manager is asking “how long till you are back?” And then we go 13 games unbeaten and you’re back fit but you can’t get in. And as a player, it’s difficult to accept but you have to accept it. When you’ve got a manager like Conte who’s been honest with me from day one “listen you’re not getting back in the boys are playing great the team’s flying”, you haven’t got a leg to stand on. I genuinely mean when I say it, but for me, I am honestly hoping I don’t play this season which means they keep winning. Do you get that from a player that’s been here five years? I don’t think you do. Do you get that from a player who plays but moaning every week? I’ve not moaned once. I’m training unbelievably, you have to, you do things the right way because the love of the club and how much you respect the club and how good the club has been to you over the years.’
Passion, Dedication, Loyalty – John Terry, who could well have been a member of the class of ’92 had he signed for Ferguson when the opportunity came must have truly felt thankful for his decision to choose Chelsea. The same goes for Chelsea fans over the world. At the 26th minute, Pickford deliberately threw the ball out of play on request from Diego Costa. As the teammates formed a guard of honour and the figure of the captain in the shining armband with no. 26 written in the back walked out through the middle, it was an end of an era for Chelsea Football Club. Standing with the club through thick and thin, John Terry was Mr. Chelsea out and out. There will be many captains in the future too, but 22 years later, Chelsea again have to start their search of another Leader. And In the modern football world, they are very unlikely to find any. Farewell John Terry – The Warrior, the Leader, the Mortal.