FEW sportsmen in history have divided opinion as much as John Terry – but nobody could argue with his football abilities.
The most successful player in Chelsea’s history will walk away from Stamford Bridge next month after 22 years’ service to the club man and boy.
During his time as captain, leader, legend, Terry won the Champions League and Europa League, four Premier League titles, five FA Cups and three League Cups.
He hopes to have another League and FA Cup double in his collection by the time he packs his Chelsea kitbag for the last time next month.
And even those Manchester United fans who have taunted Terry ever since his penalty miss in the 2008 Champions League final will be forced to concede that this really will be the end of an era for English football.
For Terry is the last of a dying breed, a warrior centre-half prepared to put his heart and soul into defending his goal.
HIGHS & LOWS
- Oct 1998: Makes Chelsea debut against Aston Villa
- Aug 2004: Appointed Chelsea captain and leads club to first title win in 50 years nine months later
- Aug 2006: Named England captain
- May 2012: Lifts European Cup despite missing final through suspension
- May 2015: Skippers Blues to his fourth title after playing every minute of the campaign during Jose Mourinho’s second spell in charge
- Sep 2001: Fined two weeks’ wages after drunken antics at Heathrow hotel day after 9/11
- May 2008: Misses penalty in shootout as Manchester United win Champions League
- Jan 2010: Married JT named as footballer who had an affair with team-mate Wayne Bridge’s former partner
- Oct 2011: Accused of racially abusing QPR’s Anton Ferdinand. Cleared in court in July 2013 but quits England two months later and is banned and fined by FA the same month days after
But there was far more to Terry’s game than mere bravery and physical presence.
No one could read the game better nor inspire and organise those around him.
He could pass the ball with unerring accuracy and play his way out of the most difficult situations with impressive calmness.
He should have won many more than the 78 England caps he accumulated before announcing his international retirement in 2012.
But the fact is that Terry jumped before he was pushed after being charged by the FA with racially abusing QPR defender Anton Ferdinand.
And the great pity is that so many of his football qualities and achievements will be overshadowed by the self-inflicted controversies which have dogged him throughout his career.
Terry had already been cleared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court of the criminal charge of using racist language to Ferdinand so was dismayed when the FA then found him guilty of a similar offence.
Two years earlier he was stripped of the England captaincy following allegations of an affair with the girlfriend of his Chelsea team-mate Wayne Bridge.
Both Bridge and Ferdinand would subsequently deliver very public snubs to Terry during the pre-match handshakes.
Yet Chelsea always gave their backing to a player who joined them as a 14-year-old schoolboy and became a permanent fixture in their team at the age of 19.
Only Ron Harris and Peter Bonetti made more than Terry’s 713 appearances in a Chelsea shirt and no-one can match his 578 games as captain.
Even when he was suspended for the 2012 Champions League final against Bayern Munich, he still managed to steal the headlines by lifting the trophy in his full playing kit.
Yet no-one could begrudge Terry his winners’ medal that night, especially after his heart-breaking slip during the penalty shoot-out against United in Moscow four years previously.
A Who’s Who of Chelsea managers including Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Guus Hiddink, Claudio Ranieri and Roberto Di Matteo came to rely on his determination and resilience.
But Antonio Conte, the man who would have appreciated Terry’s qualities above all others, inherited a player who was entering the twilight of his career when he arrived at Stamford Bridge last summer.
Terry started in Chelsea’s first four Premier League games of the season but has managed just one substitute’s appearance for Conte since then.
He was hoping to end his career at Stamford Bridge but reluctantly accepted that his time was up following protracted negotiations with the club over another contract extension.
“After 22 years there is so much to say and so many people to thank at this great football club,” Terry said in a carefully prepared statement last night.
“From coaches, team-mates and staff to the fans who have given me so much support down the years, I can’t thank you enough.
“I will always be a Blue and am desperate to end my final season as a Chelsea player with more silverware.
“Words cannot describe the love I have for our club and our amazing fans. I would like to thank every one of you from the bottom of my heart for the unbelievable support you have shown me over the years.
“You mean the world to me and I will never forget the incredible journey we have been on together during my time at the club.”
Not everyone will be sorry to see him go.
But there won’t be a dry eye in the house when Terry finally waves farewell at Chelsea’s final home game of the season against Sunderland.