Around this time of year, the same rumours always emerge from Stamford Bridge, speculating over the future of captain John Terry. A consequence of Chelsea’s policy of granting only one-year contract extensions to players over the age of 30, it has become almost an annual tradition.
But in the context of a season in which the 14th-placed reigning champions have suffered one of the greatest falls from grace in Premier League history, and ahead of a summer window in which significant changes are resultantly expected in west London to ensure it never happens again, the idea of the ageing skipper calling a day on his 21-year Chelsea career seems more plausible than ever.
Inside the box and particularly when defending the near post, Terry is still a world-class defender. But any natural speed once possessed now alludes him completely and the majority of his defending above the 18-yard-line can be described as ordinary at best – his slow turn of pace becoming even more prevalent.
Resultantly, Chelsea have to play in a certain way to accommodate the former England captain in their starting line-up. Last season, Nemanja Matic and Cesar Azpilicueta protected him effectively and the whole team sat a few extra yards back than most of their title rivals. This term, however, Chelsea’s need to come back from losing positions combined with the lesser form of Matic and Azpilicueta has often left the 35-year-old dangerously exposed.
Whilst Jose Mourinho’s final half-season at Stamford Bridge was so chaotic and inexplicable it seems almost not worth reading into, it is still incredibly telling that the Portuguese hooked off his skipper twice, having never done so during his 177 appearances previously, in arguably Chelsea’s two most important fixtures of the campaign – against Manchester City September and Leicester City in December.
A new manager means new ideas and whoever follows on from Guus Hiddink’s ship-steadying interim spell could well implement a higher defensive line, which is now common practice amongst the Premier League and Europe’s top clubs. So could Chelsea change-up at the back this summer, with their captain, leader, legend resultantly jetting off to elsewhere? And perhaps more importantly, who would come in to replace him?
Courtesy of Mirror Football, one of the latest names doing the rounds is Crystal Palace defender Scott Dann. Due to the enormous revenues that now encircle the Premier League – and particularly its top clubs – we’ve become preconditioned in England to expect stellar arrivals with stellar price-tags who are either deemed indisputably world-class talents or destined to soon reach the top level. When compared to the likes of Raphael Varane, Diego Godin, Aymeric Laporte and John Stones, who are never too far away from being mentioned in the Premier League’s rumour columns, Dann’s name is admittedly a little underwhelming.
But Chelsea don’t need to source an out-and-out successor to Terry, should he decide this summer, because they already have one in Kurt Zouma. There are certainly notable differences in style – the Frenchman is an incredible natural athlete for a start – but they cut similarly imperious figures of aerial dominance and full-blooded challenges that inspire those around them. What Chelsea do need, however, is another steady-Eddie with a wise head to work alongside their prodigious centre-half.
Dann could well be the man for the job, despite his lack of experience at Champions League and international level. Over the last seven years – two of which he spent in the Championship – the 6 foot 5 centre-half has been one of the most underappreciated defenders in English football.
Whilst centre-back partner Roger Johnson picked up the majority of critical acclaim at the time, his and Dann’s polarised fortunes since rewrite the history of Birmingham’s memorable 2009/10 campaign, in which the Midlands outfit recorded wins over Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal to finish in ninth place. It now seems clear Dann was the true defensive star of Alex McLeish’s side.
Similarly, since returning to the Premier League with Crystal Palace in January 2013, the 28-year-old’s partnership with Damien Delaney has helped transform the South London side from a relegation outfit into genuine top seven contenders, in the process conceding the sixth-fewest goals of any Premier League side – a respectable 24, and six clean sheets from 22 fixtures this season.
No doubt, Palace play a relatively simple defensive game in which other aspects of Dann’s skills set – such as distribution and speed – are rarely tested. But when it comes to the basics, the unappreciated arts of marking, tackling, blocking, heading and positioning, the Merseyside-born defender is unquestionably well-schooled.
Likewise, two traits particularly stand out when analysing Dann’s game. Firstly, Chelsea’s interest reportedly stems from the fact the one-time Walsall man has played regularly on both sides of the centre-back partnership throughout his Premier League career, lining up on the right for Palace and on the left at Birmingham.
That particularly strikes a chord in regards to John Terry – currently, Chelsea don’t have another centre-back who naturally suits the left-sided role. Gary Cahill has often struggled there whilst Kurt Zouma’s quality on the ball is probably too limited – albeit improving all the time – to start playing on his left foot every week.
Secondly, Dann is a match-winner – a defender who feels equally responsible for scoring goals as preventing them – and has proven it consistently throughout his two-and-a-half years at Selhurst Park. During that time, five of the defender’s seven goals have lead to Palace victories, one against Liverpool was an out-and-out 82nd minute winner and another secured a vital point against Everton last month.
If there’s one characteristic Chelsea’s centre-backs have consistently shared pretty much throughout the entire Roman Abramovich era, it’s a willingness to impact at the other end of the pitch by making the most of set pieces. Dann and his towering 6 foot 5 frame would certainly help maintain that trend.
No doubt, some of you are probably still rather underwhelmed by the notion of Dann arriving at Stamford Bridge next summer. He’s unspectacular, unassuming and not long ago was plying his trade in English football’s second tier.
But when Gary Cahill first moved to west London at a meagre cost of £5million in January 2012, few expected much from the then-Bolton stalwart. 177 appearances later, the 30-year-old has won everything there is to win with Chelsea, making vital contributions in hugely important games along the way, and resultantly emerged as the England national team’s best centre-half. Arriving under a likewise cloud of more prestigious names potentially being available, Dann could go on to have a similar impact.