Over the course of the next two days we will be bringing you the thoughts of departing captain John Terry as he looks back on his monumental Chelsea career.
Today, in part one of our exclusive chat with Terry, the most successful captain in our history talks about having to prove himself early on in his Blues career and the ways in which the Premier League has changed since he first broke into the side...
Was there a point in your early Chelsea career when you came through some difficult tests and thought yes, I can compete and succeed at the very highest level?
‘I think within myself I always believed but I don’t think there was one particular game where I would look and think I have made it. That is probably why I am where I am today, because I have never sat there and thought I have made it, whether I have been there in the team of the season, won a Young Player of the Year, won Player of the Year, won trophies. That all gets forgotten and the next year you set yourself bigger and better targets. I have never thought that is me, I have cracked it. I have always been the type to think I have won one, I want two, I want three or four, and now having my fifth Premier League title, the first captain in history to do that, it is something I am really proud of.
‘That self-belief has to be there for sure. As a youngster you have to work so hard to get there and when you get there it is not only you believing, it is the manager believing in you to put you in the team in the first place. So when you get that vote of confidence, you get a feeling you can cope among first team players. You make mistakes, and I made plenty in my early games and early days at Chelsea.
'When I look back now at some of the old games I think did I really just make that pass, but that is where I am thankful to the Chelsea fans. Whether giving one ball away or making a mistake for a goal, they sing your name again because you are one of them and you came through the Academy, and they know this club means everything to me.’
What is the secret to keeping the ambition to succeed burning for so many years?
‘It is something natural from within for sure. I have always been the same and my wife even tells me off about it now. If I play table tennis or pool or go bowling with the kids I have to win. They are 11 years old so that might sound a bit harsh but my dad was very much the same when I was growing up. Whenever I had an arm wrestle with my dad he would never let me win, never, and as a kid it absolutely frustrated the life out of me but when I got to the point when I beat him at an arm wrestle at the age of 16, it meant something because I knew he was trying and I knew I was stronger. That is how I have been brought up and I think it is a good way to bring kids up, as well as giving as much confidence as I can to my kids of course. But they need to know the difference between winning and losing and when they win they need to know they have earned it, so if they want to beat dad at table tennis, they better practice.’
Has the Premier League changed much over the course of your Chelsea career?
‘Quite a bit. I think it has improved and continues to improve year after year if I am honest. The quality of players, first and foremost, has improved and the influx of foreign players over the years has helped, with the mentality of how they do things benefiting us in the way we live, both on and off the field.
'The Premier League used to be very physical with long balls up to the strikers and most teams playing with a big striker and a quick one alongside him. Now, you look at teams whose defence split to either side of the box and play out, and you go into our Academy and the kids are doing that at the age of seven or eight, splitting the box and being confident on the ball and it is great to see.
‘The quality of pitches as well. They were not bad for me growing up but now there is not a bobble on the pitch. When I first started playing you needed to take that possibility into the equation when you went to control a ball or pass. Now it is just a given and you get better quality with that.’
Can you estimate how many times you have played through the pain barrier in an average season?
‘Numerous times. In the 2015 championship-winning season when I played every minute of every game, you just find a way. I have seen others do it, too. David Luiz and Gary Cahill, for the pair of them before the Champions League final to not play or train for weeks before was incredible.
'I remember in Jose Mourinho’s years he was desperate for me to play or train when I had a broken toe and a broken bone in my foot. I had to have two injections in my toe every day for a whole year, one before training and sometimes the doctor would have to come out and re-inject me because it wore off in training if it was a longer session than an hour. It was just a given for me. I would do it again tomorrow because it sounds crazy but you would give your life for the football club when they have given you so much over the years.’
And you can’t let people know at the time you are playing with an injury…
‘You can’t but after games you do think I did well to get through that one, or there would be times before a game when you think I am struggling here, but you go out and the pain goes like that because you are in that zone and because the adrenaline kicks in. You have the supporters singing your name and that is when they have a massive part to play. When they sing names and give people a lift it is massive.’
Do you think it is properly recognised how much you improved the use of your left foot to become more or less two-footed and play on the left of central defence?
‘Probably not, but I know so it does not really bother me to be honest and the Chelsea fans have seen it, whether it was a diagonal pass from left centre-back to right midfield, or to the right winger or into the space. I am very confident in doing that and I am probably now more confident with my left foot over a longer distance.
'That is due to hard work and wanting to be the best because when I first came through, there was a thought process behind it. We had Marcel Desailly, Frank Leboeuf, Michael Duberry and Emerson Thome and all were right-footed. So I thought if I am going to compete against them it is going to be pretty tough, but if am competing and I am a better left-sided centre-half than them all, I have a good chance of getting in and once I am in, it is down to me keep the place.
'I worked on it every day for years and years and I still do today. The Chelsea fans know and I know as well so I don’t really care if others don’t as long as Chelsea people know that.’
Whereas other parts of your distribution, the cushion headers and the chest passes, they were always there…
‘Yes, from early on. I am a defender for a reason, probably because I was not good enough to be a midfielder or a striker. But when I look at my game and I see other defenders probably taking too many touches, all I wanted to do was get the ball and give it to the likes of Lamps with one touch, because the less touches I take, the more time he was going to have on the ball and Lamps has more quality than me. It was better he had time than me taking two or three touches, that was always my mentality.’
In your early days you frequently made crunching tackles and spoke about enjoying that side of the game but you did it less so later on. Was that the natural evolution of your game or the result of becoming established and knowing you did not have to make your presence felt as much?
‘My game naturally changed. In training I made a point of doing it, you want to get noticed as a young player and it worked for me, but also in games as well. I love a tackle. For me it is like scoring a goal, a really good tackle or a block where you take one in the face or get a ball smashed in your face from five yards but you stop a goal. That is the equivalent of a goal for me. I think it is the “old school” in me, the generation I was brought up in. I love that side of the game and I love defending.’
So what gave you more pleasure, scoring a goal or keeping a clean sheet in a really important game?
‘First and foremost keeping a clean sheet because when you keep a clean sheet you are giving your team a chance, but there have been times when I have got the deciding or winning goal and if it is a choice between those then I think it is the goal. You get the three points or win the trophy. That scoring feeling is great but those big tackles or defending moments are what I live and play for.’
You will be able to read the second part of our exclusive interview with Terry on this website tomorrow.
Don't forget, you can win a captain's armband signed by Terry, as well as one of 26 limited-edition posters, by clicking here.