There’s a problem at Chelsea. It’s to do with the rules.
The club have been eager to change their reputation for profligacy that they earned during the early Abramovich years and start running things smarter. Chelsea have made a bigger effort than most to comply with Financial Fairplay and have focused their recruitment on young players with high-sell on values. They’ve also created a contract policy that is open in its insistence in only offering one-year extensions to players over the age of 30.
While this may be a good general rule to follow, it’s not one that applies to all cases. It certainly doesn’t seem to apply to John Terry. And if a rule no longer makes sense, it should be disregarded. Adhering to it just because you said you would isn’t smart, it’s stupid.
John Terry is 33. He’s a 33-year-old footballer who is Chelsea’s best central defender. And that’s saying a lot. Chelsea are quite good at defending. In fact, they’re currently the best at it in the Premier League and have only conceded four league goals in 2014.
John Terry has been central to this success. He’s enjoying his best season for years, leading to calls for him to named Player of the Year. While this remains unlikely, it’s fair to say that he’s been one of Chelsea’s best performers this season.
He’s certainly not playing like a player of 33. And therefore, he shouldn’t be treated like one.
Football is becoming increasingly obsessed with age. Those young in age, to be specific. Players are written off from the day they turn 30, and any purchase of a footballer above the age of 25 is deemed unwise. But age is just one factor to consider when deciding whether to sign a player, and a better indicator of physical condition comes in the form of how a player is actually playing.
Currently, John Terry is playing very well. Part of the reason for his improved form this season can be attributed to the system that Chelsea employ. Jose Mourinho has instilled a counter-attacking style that is based on defending deep. This allows Terry to play to his strengths and doesn’t expose the one weakness of his game: his lack of pace.
Given that this structure isn’t too physically demanding of its defenders, and assuming that Mourinho is going be the Chelsea manager for the next two seasons, there would appear to be little reason not to give Terry the two-year contract extension he seeks. That is, apart from Chelsea already having said they won’t.
And this isn’t the first time that this explicit policy has become an issue.
Frank Lampard went through a similar contract wrangle last season. The struggle was down to the fact that the midfielder wanted to be guaranteed another two years with the club while Chelsea were only willing to commit to one.
The dispute seemed ludicrous. The midfielder scored 15 goals in the Premier League. He was the club’s best central midfielder by some distance and it appeared that they were willing to risk losing him out of obstinacy. They weren’t going to back down now. Not even if it meant defying all logic.
The dispute created an unnecessary distraction at precisely the time when you don’t want one. And the John Terry situation is starting to turn into just that: a situation. Even if differences are resolved and Terry agrees to settle for just one more year it only really serves to kick the can down the road. We’ll be talking about this in another 12 months when the talk should be of trophies.
The problem is that when you have such an absolute rule as Chelsea have then you fail to recognise the subtleties of the situation. Lampard has been able to continue to perform at 35 because his game has never been about physicality. He’s forged a successful career by being a superior reader of the game, and the mental faculties tend only to increase with age.
Similarly, Terry can continue to perform so consistently well at 33 because the system he’s playing in doesn’t demand to much from him physically. Chelsea should be looking to recognise these exceptions to the rule and embrace them; not ignore them out of stubbornness.