Chelsea’s 5-1 win over MK Dons in the FA Cup on Sunday was instantly forgotten about by anyone that has a connection with the team from west London as and when their club captain John Terry announced that he will leave Stamford Bridge at the end of the 2015-16 season.
MK Dons were not even in existence when Terry made his senior professional debut as a late substitute in a League Cup match against Aston Villa at the tender age of 17 in 1997. Six years later he would be appointed captain of his beloved Blues, four years after a brief loan spell at first division side Nottingham Forest.
Terry had benefited from years of tutoring from 1998 World Cup winners Marcel Desailly and Frank Lebouef who both, like Terry, were tough, combative, no-nonsense centre halves who it is evident provided the iconic defender with many of the qualities that endeared him to the Chelsea faithful.
He first wore the armband in 2001 when he was only 21 years old – showing maturity and leadership well beyond his years.
It was Desailly that Terry took over the role as captain on a permanent basis from in 2003 following the Frenchman’s retirement and the decision to name Terry as skipper was the first of many seismic impacts Jose Mourinho made at Chelsea during his first stint as manager.
Immediate success followed as Mourinho’s men won a League Cup and Premier League double with Terry leading a team that fought the league crown off Arsenal who the year before had gone through an entire season unbeaten. It was Chelsea’s first top division title in 50 years and ‘JT’ won a number of personal awards too – he was named the PFA Player of the Year, the Champions League Defender of the Year and he also earned a spot in the FIFA World Team of the Year. His finest moment on a personal point though would perhaps be his dramatic header in the topsy-turvy 4-2 Champions League win over Barcelona in the last 16 of the Champions League which, prior to 2012, was probably the finest European night in Chelsea’s history. Prior to Terry’s header Chelsea had raced into a 3-0 lead inside 20 minutes but conceded two via the enigmatic Ronaldinho and were heading out – but the skipper’s winner from a corner with just 15 minutes remaining booked a quarter-final tie against Bayern Munich.
Domestic trophies would continue to pile up. Back-to-back league titles were secured in the 2005-06 season and, despite not being able to retain the championship for a third year, Chelsea did win the 2007 League Cup and the first FA Cup final at the newly-built Wembley Stadium with a 2-1 win over Manchester United.
Silverware eluded him in the 2007-08 campaign but his determination for more medals never wavered. In December 2007 Terry suffered three broken bones in his foot and was expected to be ruled out for three months – he captained his club in the League Cup final against Tottenham Hotspur two months later, demonstrating his commitment to any cause Chelsea were a part of as well as his own desire to win every match and trophy possible.
Another FA Cup would follow in 2008-09 and his third Premier League medal would be hung around his neck in Carlo Ancelotti’s first year in charge at Stamford Bridge, as did FA Cup number four a year later. During the summer of 2009 Terry was constantly linked with a move to Manchester City, who had recently been taken over by the Abu Dhabi United Group, and his loyalty ‘was tested, as was the nerves of his fans, but a new deal was eventually signed, much to the relief of anyone who supported the team who dons the darker shade of blue and the legendary status of the captain and leader was only increased.
Ancelotti would be sacked just 12 months later after a trophy less campaign, but the finest accolade of Terry’s career was just around the corner.
Andre Villas-Boas’ tenure at Chelsea would be a turbulent one – and one that Terry received criticism for apparently leading a revolt against the inexperienced Portuguese coach, but the sacking of ‘AVB’ led to the hiring of Roberto di Matteo and the first ever Champions League win in Chelsea’s history, although their captain missed the final due to kneeing Alexis Sanchez in the lower back in the semi-final second-leg at the Nou Camp. That did not stop Terry donning full kit and lifting ‘Ol Big Ears’ with vice-captain Frank Lampard. Also, you guessed it; the Blues would also win another FA Cup.
Although Terry missed the Munich final, his leadership throughout the campaign was pivotal. Chelsea could have gone out in the group stages if they lost their last game against Valencia, but a win secured top spot in the group and then dramatic wins were needed in the last 16 against Napoli, Benfica and Barcelona, with Terry being a rock at the back in a tireless performance in defence in a 1-0 win over the Catalan giants in the first leg in the English capital.
The Rafa Benitez interim era was a tough one for at Chelsea. The fans hated a man who in the past had taken digs at the club for waving plastic flags at Champions League matches and John Terry especially never warmed to the Spaniard as the ex-Liverpool boss was sceptical he could play twice a week.
Someone would end up being proved wrong though, and it was not Terry. Mourinho’s return to SW6 would not end with a trophy in his first year back, but it did see the rejuvenate of Terry to the first-team fold as the captain played in 47 games and 34 out of a possible 38 of these in the Premier League.
It would be the season after though that Terry would really show Benitez what he was missing.
Chelsea romped to the Premier League title; clear of nearest rivals Manchester City by eight points, and lost only three matches and Terry played every single minute of every single game. Two games a week? Easy.
This season has been a difficult one. Mourinho has been sacked, fans have booed their team off and the Premier League champions at the time of writing sit in 13th, making them the worst holders in recent memory, but there has been one constant in all of this – the never-say-die attitude of one John George Terry.
Terry’s goodbye at the end of the season will be a heartfelt one and one that many fans will struggle to get over. The club has lacked leadership following the departures in recent years – the likes of Petr Cech, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba, and Terry’s contract not being renewed signals the last of the ‘old guard’ leaving.
Terry said in his leaving statement that: “The club will move on. No player is ever bigger than the club. Ideally I would have loved to stay, but the club is moving in a different direction” – maybe not a direction a lot of fans will like.