Leadership. Human beings, hierarchical by nature, live in a society where the many are run by the few. Leaders can make us believe things we wouldn’t normally believe and do things we wouldn’t normally feel capable of doing. Whether it’s spurring you over a trench into no-man’s land and certain death, convincing you not to give up or making you believe that Mexicans and Muslims are the root to all your country’s problems, leadership is something we as humans all buy into.
It’s often said in football – that you need leaders – on the pitch, on the sidelines, in the dressing room and even at the training ground, and it couldn’t be closer to the truth. Strong leadership breeds success and leaders don’t come much stronger than John Terry.
A Chelsea team once filled to the brim with international captains, strong personalities and supreme leaders of men are now just left with one. John Terry is the last man standing at Chelsea. Gone are the days when the Blues could call upon the likes of Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Petr Cech, Ashley Cole, Michael Ballack, Michael Essien and Andriy Shevchenko to lead the line. They were once a side who could fall back on big personalities to dig them out of holes, players who were never afraid to dig their heels in when the going got tough (apologies for the cliche).
Mourinho, who put together that very generation of leaders would often describe football as a war or a battle, and just where are you ever going to need leaders more? For a club so seemingly focused on their off-field performance, building a highly successful youth academy (*cough* – successful at youth level at least), generating a hefty income by taking advantage of the loan system, and with big plans for the future on the way with the construction of a new stadium, it seems bizarre that those in charge at Chelsea could be so shortsighted and naiive as to let their captain of 12 years depart so suddenly and easily.
The decision to let Frank Lampard leave was just as crazy. No, not because he cost them two points at the Etihad by scoring against them (as well as knicking a few goals for Chelsea’s title rivals City last season), but because they needlessly let such a big personality leave the dressing room.
Both Frank Lampard and John Terry have been sent packing at the age of 35, which on the face of it seems fair, but recognising that footballers aren’t robots with a ‘use-by’ date, both players had/have a lot more to give on the pitch. Just look at the way Lampard continued his impressive goal scoring form during his season at City, and forgetting for a moment that Chelsea are having their worst season in over two decades, John Terry remains one of the best centre backs in the league, and despite a wobble early on the season, has been Chelsea’s mainstay at the back, preffered over the likes of Cahill and Zouma (oh – and Djilobodji, yeah if you didn’t know, Chelsea signed him apparently).
But that’s besides the point, it’s not necessarily what Terry can offer on the pitch that Chelsea are losing out on, it’s what he can offer off it. What a role model and teacher he could be for the likes of Kurt Zouma and new signing 20-year old Matt Miazga. Not to mention, John Stones is still being tipped to end up at Stamford Bridge this summer, and if he does, he couldn’t wish for a better mentor. And not just the defenders, Terry would be the perfect man to offer advice and support to any player pulling on the Chelsea shirt.
Not only this though, Terry has become almost an ambassadorial figure at the club, turning up at youth team matches to watch the kids and even showing his support (and funding) the Chelsea ladies team. ‘Mr Chelsea’ as the fans call him, seems to be exactly that. During a time where stability and longevity have been nothing but a pipe-dream at Chelsea, John Terry has been the one constant. Amidst all the chaos, mayhem and drama, it’s been Terry who has always ended up leading Chelsea out the other side, strapping his armband on and thumping his chest, for better or for worse. But the powers that be have decided they don’t need that anymore. Crazy.
Like Frank Lampard, John Terry is exactly the kind of man you would want around the club, helping the next generation, encouraging the current one, and all the while, being comfortable with a reduced squad role. Lampard and Terry are – as the saying goes – Chelsea through and through, and at their age would happily accept a more ‘managed’ match scheduled.
It just seems crazy that Chelsea would want to be rid of these players to readily. Factor in also that Chelsea, once abundant with leaders, are now noticeably lacking them. While the array of talent in the squad hasn’t decreased over the past decade, the amount of big personalities definitely has.
Chelsea were praised last season for the way their replaced their legends, in footballing terms. Out went Cech, in came Courtois. Out went Ashley Cole, in came Azpilicueta. Out went Lampard, in came Fabregas. Out went Drogba, in came Costa. Legends of that stature are impossible to properly replace but on the face of it Chelsea didn’t do a bad job. But what they have failed to replace in recent years is their loss of leaders. Even losing big personalities like David Luiz along the way has only made the situation worse. Chelsea’s vice captain currently is Branislav Ivanovic, a man who doesn’t exactly scream of ‘Winston Churchill’.
Delving further into the squad and where are the leaders coming from? Gary Cahill? Cesc Fabregas perhaps? The options grow thin and Chelsea need to recognise that. They will feel the force of losing the voice of the dressing room, the personality of the club, the identity of an entire era at Stamford Bridge. If they take that for granted and if Terry isn’t properly replaced, Chelsea could seriously lose their way over the next few years.
Just look at Arsenal. Once renowned for a squad full of big powerful players and big powerful personalities. The likes of Thierry Henry, Sol Campbell, David Seaman, Martin Keown, Gilberto Silva, Dennis Bergkamp, Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit, Jens Lehmann used to grace the Arsenal dressing room, like Chelsea’s big generation of leaders, with many playing alongside one another for a number of years. They underestimated the importance of real leadership at the club, and as the big personalities started to disappear, so did Arsenal’s title credentials.
Arsenal have never particularly had a less talented starting XI than any of the title winners in the last decade, but their lack of leaders in the team began to make a difference and become something of a problem. The release of Patrick Vieira marked the beginning of the end for the impenetrable, undying – and even for a season invincible – Arsenal that made them so feared.
Losing these characteristics will often go hand in hand with the loss of leadership. After getting rid of the likes of Vieira, Henry, Bergkamp and Campbell (and importantly, not replacing them adequately) Arsenal have failed to mount a title challenge since that lasted past March.
Since Fergie’s departure, Man United have been leaderless (and rudderless) and their status as a force in Europe continues to dwindle.
Chelsea need to learn from the lessons of the past and mustn’t make the same needless mistake of underestimating the importance of quality leadership. Although, it appears it’s too late. John Terry seems to believe he won’t be offered a new contract, and while he might be hurting because of it, long term it will only damage the team he’s leaving. Chelsea will enter next season utterly leaderless, with a brand new manager on show for them to chew up and spit out within 18 months.
The circus goes on for The Blues it seems. Strange decisions, topsy-turvy seasons, and a lot of press coverage. Now, for the first time, Chelsea will have to do it all without John Terry. This day was always going to have to come, but the question is; why have the Champions decided to bring that day forward?
It seems bizarre, but then things at Chelsea are rarely any different. They are about to lose one of the best players in the league (on his day), they’re about to lose certainly one of the best of centre backs this country has ever seen and they’re about to lose possibly the most important man in their history and without a doubt the greatest leader they will ever come across. I hope they’re prepared.