As a frustrated and forlorn John Terry soaks in the Chelsea faithful’s appreciative applause while the club closes out its annus horribils, it’d be befitting to hear the Stamford Bridge tannoy play The Beatles’ “Two of Us.” Because at age 35 and with a possible summer departure looming, Terry and the club have, as Paul McCartney put it, “memories longer than the road that stretches out ahead.”
If Chelsea and England’s Brave JT do indeed part ways then it will slam The Shed door shut on an era in which the club transformer from fashionably roguish underachievers to coldly corporate global giants. When a 17-year old Terry made his blue debut in 1998 the club hadn’t won the league since 1955 and were only nine years removed from rubbing elbows with the likes of Walsall, Plymouth Argyle, and Brighton & Hove Albion in the second division. He’d leave barely looking a day older but having won nearly 2/3rds of all the major trophies in Chelsea’s cabinet, including the club’s first Champions League win, four league titles, and five FA Cups.
Now, the most decorated captain in the club’s history must decide whether he wants to fight for his place with the Pensioners or pursue one last payday elsewhere. He’s been linked with clubs all over the globe since news of his exit broke. Let’s take a deeper into the options on Terry’s table.
- West Ham United:
As a young lad Terry played for West Ham’s fabled “Academy of Football” that produced dominant players such as Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, Trevor Brooking, Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard. Harry Redknapp, former Hammers and Seattle Sounders midfield legend and manager for nearly half of all the clubs in England, recently proclaimed “West Ham would be a good move for [both the club] and John.”
But Terry has vowed, “I couldn’t play for another Premier League club. I couldn’t do that to the Chelsea fans.” And even with the club’s resurgence under Steve McClaren-tormentor Slavan Bilić it’s hard to see the merit in making the crosstown move just to play in Chelsea’s shadow.
- Manchester United:
But would Terry break his vow for his childhood favorite? That’s right, as a little Barking lad he supported a pre-“Sir” Alex Ferguson, Mark Hughes, Steve Bruce, and Gary Pallister; revealing to the Guardian that “I was Man United growing up…I think it was hard for my dad to take that I was going to sign for Chelsea.”
United haven’t had a world-class man on the back line since Nemanja Vidic, and they could use Terry’s veteran voice to shepherd still-learning defenders like Chris Smalling, Matteo Darmian, and Cameron Borthwick-Jackson.
But could even a man as thick-skinned as Terry make such a betrayal? It would rank up there with Ashley Cole’s crosstown skip from Arsenal to Chelsea, Sol Campbell’s switch from Spurs to Arsenal, and even Figo’s infamous Barca-to-Real Madrid transfer as the most traitorous of all time. Sir Alex welcoming the Special One to Old Trafford with a glass of buttery Bordeaux and a slim-cut manager’s blazer changes things though. If Mourinho does indeed end up in red then Terry could craft a more emotional reunion with The Boss than Bruce joining up with the E Street Band again on The Rising.
- Foreign Fields:
Like Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, Terry could be beckoned by Europe’s warmer climes. He could follow in Ashley Cole’s footsteps by pulling an Italian job with Roma. Or he could follow the British hordes down to Spain’s Costa del Sol and work on achieving a Ray Winstone-level tan with Malaga or Granada. Another option is taking up Danish side Brøndby’s offer of becoming their player-manager.
Or he could go even further afield. Terry could take a permanent vacation in Qatar, Europe’s holiday destination for the nouveau riche. There he has an open invitation to join Al-Arabi, the Qatari side currently managed by his beloved former Chelsea teammate Gianfranco Zola. Further east there are Chinese riches to plunder in the Super League. He’d have his choice of two ex-bosses to reunite with, Sven-Goran Eriksson and “Big Phil” Scolari.
But the history of footballers from the home nations of England, Scotland, and Wales playing in foreign lands is more checkered than Croatia’s shirts. Some have thrived, such as Gareth Bale, Steve McManaman, and David Beckham at Real Madrid, Paul Lambert at Borussia Dortmund, Gary Lineker at Barcelona, and, of course, John Charles at Juventus.
Then there are the misses. Welshman and Liverpool legend Ian Rush may or may not have said “living in Italy is like living in a foreign country,” but the apocryphal quote is emblematic of the tough time many endure abroad.
One of the earliest examples was Denis Law’s move to Torino in 1961. The Scottish striker was frustrated from the outset by Serie A’s fiercely defensive mindset. He’d spend his spare money flying home to Aberdeen whenever he could. The breaking point that caused his departure and eventual arrival into Manchester United’s history books was when his own manager, Benjamino Santos, asked the referee to give Law a red card in an Italian Cup tie.
Jimmie Greaves had it worse, revealing in his autobiography that, “I can pinpoint the day, the hour, the minute, the second that I doomed myself to life as an alcoholic. It was the moment I signed my name on a contract that tied me head and foot to A.C. Milan.”
Jonathan Woodgate earned the title of Real Madrid’s worst 21st Century signing for his nine-appearances-in-three-years spell in the Spanish capitol. Te souviens Joey Barton’s French accent press conference? Mark Hughes spoke eloquently of his one bummer of a Barcelona year, telling FourFourTwo that, “I was talking to one of the greatest clubs in the world and I was thinking ‘I really don’t want to be here.’ Even up to getting on the plane to move out there, I was thinking maybe something will change and I won’t actually go.”
Like many British players Hughes struggled with a foreign tongue and foreign style of play. “I didn’t speak the language. I didn’t have a car so I ended up hiring one for three months because I didn’t know where to buy one. It was shambolic…[M]y game was physical and the referees didn’t like it. I was an aggressive player, but by the time I left Barcelona I wasn’t playing as aggressively as I knew I should be, so I was less of a player.” Paul Gascoigne endured similar homesickness at Lazio, revealing upon a reunion with the English national team ahead of Euro ’92 that “I’ve missed it all so much. English voices, the banter, the jokes. Yes, I have been lonely.
Luther Blissett, who spent an infamous year at AC Milan after a wondrous spell at Watford, put the struggles of playing abroad rather more succinctly in wryly observing that “[no] matter how much money you have here you can’t seem to get Rice Krispies.”
Of course, a player of Terry’s stature and means may not face such problems but why should he endure a drastic cultural adjustment at his age when he can make easy money in America with none of the acclimatization hassle? As for Qatar, Terry, like many Premier League footballers, may vacation in the Gulf but he’s got too much left in the tank to set up shop there. That won’t stop those clubs from offering Bugattis bulging with petrodollars to lure him. Yet he may have already may have already turned down as much as £20 million pounds from Chinese Super League clubs to become the first English player of note to make the march to the Middle Kingdom. It’s doubtful that any of the European giants will be blowing up his phone, so why slum it for a second-rate side in an obscure continental city if he can enjoy the well-known good life in America?
Major League Soccer has long been the Premier League’s preferred retirement community. Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole, Steven Gerrard, Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane, Didier Drogba, Freddie Ljungberg, Tim Cahill, David Beckham, Jermain Defoe, and Shaun Wright-Phillips – if your prime came in the Prem then there’s one last payday in the sun waiting for you.
The league is no longer an unknown quantity. As Drogba observed, “MLS is good league, with some good teams, and you can see that there’s some good football players here.” With the path from the Prem to North America so well worn it’s easy to envision Terry shepherding some major squad’s D. The Daily Mail, Sky Bet and Paddy Power have all placed MLS as Terry’s odds-on destination.
And a reunion with Lamps at NYFC could be his natural landing spot. For his part Lampard sounds like he’d love to craft a new Bronx Tale with Terry, telling Shortlist that “purely from a football perspective and from what he’s done on the pitch, I think he’s been their (Chelsea’s) best defender this year.”
Going further, he added, “He’s the best defender I ever played with, quite comfortably. If Chelsea let him go and John’s sitting there, I’ll get his plane ticket and get him over here.”
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