Having committed himself to Chelsea for another year, the captain talks about the boost that gives him, about enduring ambition and about the long list of central defenders he has played with at the back…
As a response to what Jose Mourinho describes as a challenge to the more senior players when it comes to earning contract extensions, John Terry’s this season could hardly have been more emphatic.
The captain has started as many games as anyone at the club in 2014/15 and he has played the whole of a league campaign which currently has the Blues clearly ahead in the title race.
Terry has already lifted the one piece of major silverware handed over so far and even his goal tally of six is three times his total of last season.
His overall personal performance level has earned recent national newspaper articles speculating on whether he should be named in the various ‘teams of the year’ to be selected, or simply describing him as England’s best defender, and let’s be honest, there can’t be a single person who has watched Terry play this season and is surprised he has been signed up this week for the 2015/16 season to come.
The 34-year-old spoke to Chelsea TV yesterday about what he believes is behind him playing as well as ever, and now he talks further with the official Chelsea website about the continuation of career that easily warrants legend status at Stamford Bridge.
When a player has achieved as much in football as JT has, it is perhaps natural to assume their self-belief is cast in solid stone, but that also underestimates the boost anyone feels when people whose opinions deserve respect clearly rate you, and to be asked to ‘carry on as you are’ by Chelsea at a time we are leading the league can only be good for confidence.
‘It is nice because people always say you are the captain, you pick people up, and they don’t tend to gee-up the captain, put an arm around your shoulder and stuff like that,’ Terry agrees.
‘Even as a captain you need things like that and this contract does that. The fans give you that as well when they sing your songs. It makes you feel a million dollars, it really does, so I owe them a lot. Everyone needs an arm round their shoulders at certain parts of their careers and their lives, and I am no different.’
Back in 2001, a 20-year-old Terry gave an interview to the Chelsea matchday programme in which he spoke about counting down the five games needed to reach 30 appearances for the club, at which point he would be given his second Chelsea contract and a boost to his belief back then.
At that stage it was all about trying to establish himself in the side and build a notable career. That of course has been done but with each new deal Terry now signs comes to chance to make further significant history. He contrasts the feelings.
‘Back then you had three or four years left on your first contract but there were clauses in it that activated if you played a certain amount of games. Now it is one year and you know the situation and it is dependent on the team’s form and your own form, and I was delighted to renew last year. Then to be in this position where we are as a squad, top of the league, is great and to renew again now is great personally.’
Nothing has been more important to Terry’s enduring success than simply being a very good centre-back, and that has meant forging a long series of effective central defence partnerships.
Since his debut in 1998, and leaving aside some early appearances at right-back, he has played with 23 different centre-back partners at Chelsea – 24 if you include games when a back-three was fielded which adds Mario Melchiot to the list.
While some of the names on there are for odd appearances by a young player or another filling in out of position, many have been genuine central pairing selections lasting a notable number of games. Terry casts his eye down the list and admits the number of players on there is quite a few more than he would have guessed.
‘It is something to have played with all those players and still remain here,’ he comments.
‘When the owner came in and there were a lot of players being bought, it was down to me to keep my place and now, having a look at that list, I have played with so many great players.’
From the list he speaks with fond recollections about the time he, William Gallas and Ricardo Carvalho shared centre-back duties for most of the back-to-back Premier League wins of 2005 and 2006.
‘I had great relationships with them off and on the field and we set records as well with not conceding goals. They were very different players but both versatile.
‘We were lucky because Willie played left-back for quite a while when ideally he wanted to play centre-back, but for the team he did his job and because me and Riccy were playing so well it was a good option, and he was superb there as well.
Right at the beginning of JT’s career he was paired with another English centre-back who had come through the ranks, Michael Duberry, but although they played together very few times, he is someone Terry frequently cites as important for him.
‘It was more on the training field, pre-seasons games, reserve games if he had been injured and was coming back and Doobs looked after me a little,’ he explains.
‘It was not only him but he kind of took me under his wing being a centre-half. Look at the names who were at the club around that time – Bernard Lambourde, Doobs, Frank Leboeuf, Marcel, Jes Hogh, Emerson Thome, Winston Bogarde - I was there competing and trying to get in the side alongside one of those.’
The 1999 signing of Thome (pictured below middle), Chelsea’s first Brazilian player and an experienced Premier League defender, for a substantial fee looked at the time a clear obstacle in the path of a teenage Terry who was increasingly catching the eye, but it was another he overcame.
‘Emerson played in a couple of big games such as against Barcelona and I went on loan [to Nottingham Forest],’ he recalls.
‘But I didn’t look at it at the time as him taking my place. I looked at it as I can learn from him, and he was a great lad as well, just a really nice man and he kind of looked after me as well.
‘I was always lucky on that front because I had all of them wanting to pass on advice and spend some time with me.
‘Over the years my centre-back partners have all been different obviously, and when I first came into the team Frank Leboeuf enjoyed playing on the left and Marcel wanted to play on the right, so I went from always wanting to play on the right to being shifted because of Marcel, and I just got used to playing as a left-sided centre-half and that has become my favoured position.
‘Playing with them was incredible as a young player, and being on the same training field and able to watch how they conducted themselves and the way they looked after themselves. It was a great example to me and the younger players.’
Fast forward to the present day and thinking about the immediate future, our captain believes all continues to look good at the back.
‘Gaz Gary Cahill has been different class since he came in and again I have struck up a relationship with him on and off the field like I did with Willie and Riccy, and Kurt is going to be a very good player.
‘We have seen glimpses of him in the side and not looking out of place so between the three of us we can rotate and that is important as well.
‘There are a lot more games now than there used to be if we stay in big competitions and you never know, the manager might even add another player in the summer. It is all about competition and about the football club and winning things, moving in the right direction, and if I am part of that then great, but if not and the club is succeeding then the manager is getting it right as well.
‘Now I just want to keep winning major trophies and being in the mix for them. At the start of my career that is what you want to do, you want to play as many games as you can and become captain. I have done that, I am still captain and I am still hungry to win things and hopefully that passion never goes but if it did it is time to call it a day.
‘It is still there the way it was when I was 17 or 18 and breaking through into the first team, and as long as that passion remains and I am capable of playing I will try to stay as long as I can.’