With John Terry set to leave Stamford Bridge after his 18 year long long tenure at the club, Chelsea are desperate to find themselves a replacement for their talismanic centre half.
Once a boot boy at the Bridge, Terry has gone to glory with his boyhood club, lifting four Premier Leagues, five FA Cup’s, three League Cup’s, a Europa League and – of course – a Champion’s League, all as club captain.
It is not often these days you come across a player of the Englishman’s calibre who also stays at one club for the majority of their career. When you look back, there are only a handful: Maldini, Gerrard and Xavi are the stand-out names.
Once a player of that stature leaves a club, it is always difficult to fill the void. All of the above’s respective clubs have struggled to do so – most notably perhaps AC Milan, who have seen their fortunes sink over the last seven years in the absence of Paolo Maldini.
Admittedly more factors have played into the the Italian side’s downfall than the mere loss of their club icon, but it has certainly been a contributing factor.
Maldini represented all that AC Milan was about. Loyalty, desire and a passion for the club were all traits that seemingly disappeared from the dressing room following the ex Italy International’s retirement in 2009.
The same can be said about Terry, and if Chelsea aren’t careful – having already lost Frank Lampard in 2014 – the southwest London club are in danger of following in Milan’s footsteps: becoming a side made of 11 such-and-such million pound players instead of a team of characters and personalities, willing to to live and to die for their club.
Now while the Blue’s certainly aren’t in a crisis state just yet, it is imperative that the honourable heir to John Terry’s throne is found. Terry loves Chelsea, and Chelsea love him.
The 34 year old’s prince in waiting is one that will have to provide that same enigmatic leadership Terry has done so charismatically over the years for the Blue’s, taking his side by the scruff of it’s neck and marching onwards with a never-say-die attitude that has led them on to such glory.
John Terry – Captain. Leader. Legend. They are humungous boots to fill, so who is up to the task?
Much like Terry himself, Clarke-Salter is Chelsea through and through. The 18-year-old has played at every level in Chelsea’s academy, winning all there is on offer along the way – including this season’s FA Youth Cup and UEFA Youth League.
The England U19 International was also handed his profession debut earlier in the season in a 4-0 victory over relegated Aston Villa. Whilst not the most challenging of fixtures, the youngster certainly impressed and looked comfortable in the centre of defence.
At such a young age, it is easy to question how someone with such a lack of experience could take the place of a player who has occupied the role of Chelsea’s main centre half for nearly two decades.
Don’t forget however, that Terry himself made his Chelsea debut at 17 and had become a first team regular by the 2000/01 season, alongside Frenchman Marcel Desailly. If Chelsea are to trust in their youth much as they did all those years ago, it is vital Clarke-Salter has a role model to watch and learn from as Terry did during his early days in the Premier League.
The youngster has already been hailed by Terry to ‘take his place’ come his departure from the club. Strong in the challenge, calm on the ball and with excellent reading of the game, Clarke-Salter is mature far beyond his youthful appearance.
It might be a gamble, but it seemed to have paid of pretty well the first time round; so why not try it again.
Signed from French club St. Etienne back in January 2014 for a fee of around £12million, Kurt Zouma’s propulsion into the first team was fast. Since moving to the Bridge, the 21-year-old has made 38 appearances for Chelsea, and featured heavily in Jose Mourinho’s starting XI at the start of the year.
Interim manager Guus Hiddink had also entrusted Zouma with a starting place before the Frenchman suffered a horrific cruciate knee ligament injury in February that ruled him out for the rest of the season.
And his absence has been noticeable. Even though the Blue’s had certainly favoured better during the second half of this term, consistency has been a problem at the back, with Dutchman Hiddink struggling to find his preferred back four and centre back pairing.
Terry-Cahill. Cahill-Ivanovic. Ivanovic-Mikel? It is fair to say Chelsea have struggled to find a replacement suitable for Zouma, as his commanding performances towards the start of the season saw him become a silver lining in what was a troubled time for the Londoners.
His performances attracted praise from Blue’s legend Marcel Desailly who said: “He’ll be better than me.” before adding, “I just want him to be at peace and to work on his agility and technique and he can be far better than me, because I was not like this at his age.”
Still raw, the French International still has plenty still learn, but at *”* and with his pace, alongside his already substantial match experience, I struggle to think of a better equipped player to lead the line in Terry’s absence next season.
Clarke-Salter and Zouma, while both undoubtedly talented and with big careers ahead of them, are both still undeniably young. While the pair may be long-term options, If Chelsea are looking to immediately fill the boots of the luminary Terry next season; they are going to need experience, and plenty of it to boot.
One man linked with a move to the Bridge this summer, is Juventus and Italy defender Leonardo Bonucci. A player described by Pep Guardiola as ‘one of his favourites of all time’, incoming Chelsea boss Antonio Conte is very familiar with the former Bari man and his capacity.
The Italian centre half was Conte’s main man alongside Giorgio Chiellini in a Juventus side that won three consecutive Serie A titles between 2012 and 2015, as well as making the 2015 Champion’s League Final. The 29-year-old was also a European Cup runner up for Italy in 2014 and was named in last season’s Serie A team of the Year.
Terry and Bonucci’s style of play isn’t so dissimilar either. While the Juventus man may be more accustomed to working in a back three, he is still fantastic in the air, has and excellent footballing mind and is composed with the ball at his feet.
The former Inter man’s trophy room is abundant and his experience, almost unparalleled. If Conte can lure the 6ft 3in defender to London next season, Bonucci would certainly have the know-how and the ability to lead Chelsea’s line.