The timing may be strange, but the substance is not.
Last season, Chelsea and John Terry encountered difficulties before finally agreeing a new one-year contract, but even then the captain’s time at Stamford Bridge looked certain to be coming to an end after that.
When it was initially announced that he wouldn’t be getting a new deal last year, the media reported the clamour and outrage that followed. This time, it’s been silently accepted – even if there’s a debate about the potentially self-serving nature of the timing.
If not self-serving, though, it certainly appears to add an extra burden to Chelsea’s assault on the Premier League title.
Having lost 2-0 to Manchester United on Sunday, the announcement came at a strange time, but more importantly, it distracts Chelsea from their task at hand – and a task that has become that little bit harder over the last few weeks. So far this season, Antonio Conte’s side seem to have a one-track mind in their quest for victory.
Their use of so few players in a settled starting XI, coupled with a merciful absence of European football has helped this no end. Still, adding extra trivia to the mix at the very moment when the team starts to wobble doesn’t sound like a good idea, but it’s what Terry has done, adding a further emotional dimension to the problem, too.
It’s not the first time, though, that Terry would add to the burden of his team. So often over his career, he’s been the player to lift the burden: last-ditch blocks and action man clearances are his stock in trade, after all. But at some vital moments, his cool has fled him.
The most obvious, of course, is also the cruellest. But it’s not the most relevant. His penalty miss in the 2008 Champions League final helped give victory to Manchester United in Moscow, and although that’s a case of losing his cool, any player can miss a penalty, especially one with so much pressure riding on it. The slip didn’t help, but maybe the captain’s reaction – to sit with his head between his knees for longer than might have been advised – set the tone for the rest of the shootout and making Chelsea’s following taker feel like they’d lost already. His players went on to lose, though it would be harsh to blame that solely on Terry.
Four seasons later, though, Chelsea would win the Champions League in a penalty shootout, this time over Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena. It was perhaps an even sweeter way of winning the trophy, but not for Terry. Suspended for the final, his involvement on the night came in the form of donning a pristine full kit and lifting the trophy alongside teammates who had been sweating blood for 120 minutes. The ensuing memes, though, surely didn’t dampen his moment. The club captain present at the club’s greatest moment.
The fact he was suspended at all, though, is a blot on his copybook and one that shows Terry – ‘Mr Chelsea’, according to Martin Tyler – has burdened his team before.
After the injured Gary Cahill came off after just 12 minutes, and after Sergio Busquets had put Chelsea behind, Terry drove his knee into Alexis Sanchez and saw red, sending his unfancied team down to 10 men in a Champions League semi-final at the ground of the holders, Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona.
Incredibly, over the two legs, Chelsea scored three goals, all in added-on time, and saw 28% of the possession both times. But after losing both centre backs in the first half of a game at the Camp Nou, and after going down to 10 men, Chelsea somehow managed to claw their way into the final. It was a miraculous effort, but no thanks to Terry.
“At the time I was bewildered, but looking at the replay it looks a red card,” he said, admitting his guilt and yet not really admitting anything at all. How could he find himself bewildered after seeing red for kneeing his opponent off the ball? And to admit it ‘looks a red card’ is tantamount to saying he did it, unless he’s saying it looks worse than it really was. It was a severe rush of blood, and one that thankfully didn’t cost his team.
Now, Chelsea once again find themselves in a position of relative weakness (in that they are currently at their lowest point since they lost 3-0 to Arsenal in late September) and once again, John Terry has made that situation just a little bit tougher. Not in the same way, and not to the same degree, but it’s there.
After a wobbly period where Chelsea’s defensive resolve has been called into question, the last thing Chelsea need is more roadblocks. Though in a way, it could be helpful for a squad to win one last title for their captain. What is certain, though, is that a team in their situation could do with Terry’s brand of courage and determination to see themselves over the line.
But it’s starting to become appear that, if Chelsea do win the title this year, it will be in spite of their captain, not because of him. But he’ll still get to lift the trophy once again.