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John Terry is the greatest centre-back in Premier League history — hard to admit, isn’t it?

All this assistant manager business got me thinking about peak Terry...

In approximately three minutes’ time I’m hoping you will admit that John Terry is the greatest ever Premier League centre-back.

It’s the kind of statement that requires gritted teeth, such is the Chelsea legend’s rap sheet.

One of the least flattering blemishes on his record is the Heathrow hotel incident of 2001, when he mocked American tourists on September 11th.



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Then there’s the whole Wayne Bridge affair.

The Anton Ferdinand incident was particularly unpleasant, and ultimately resulted in him being stripped of the England captaincy.

Changing into full kit (including boots) to lift the Champions League trophy wound plenty of people up too.

And the orchestration to allow him to leave the field in the 26th minute in his final game for Chelsea was an indulgence of ego the likes of which we’ve rarely seen.


Graham Hughes - The Times

It’s understandable if you see ‘JT’ as something of a villain… and not just because he’s Aston Villa’s new assistant (to the) manager.

However, if we stick to football, as we are so oft advised, Terry deserves lofty recognition.

The role of the centre-back underwent a paradigm shift during Terry’s playing career.

When he first started out, in the late 90s and early 00s, defenders were supposed to defend.

Towering headers, invasive marking, crunching tackles — this all suited Terry just fine.

Nottingham Forest legend

PA:Empics Sport
Nottingham Forest legend

In the late 00s, around the time Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona rose to dominance with their death-by-a-thousand-cuts approach, centre-backs were supposed to be footballers.

The big lads at the back were expected to be as effective in possession as they were when battling for it.

This wasn’t an issue for Terry.

The consistency of his passing, with both feet, remains one of Terry’s most underrated attributes.

He was so good at the rough stuff and the basics of defending that some overlooked the fact he was supremely composed with the ball at his feet.

Captain. Leader. Legend

PA:Empics Sport
Captain. Leader. Legend

Headers and blocks were his bread and butter.

At his peak, Terry was under everything and in the way of even more.

While these skills require sufficient physicality, they are underpinned by more sophisticated workings.

His anticipation was almost precognitive and he had an innate sense of positioning that meant he spent 90 minutes in the precise spot that was most aggravating for the opposition’s No9.

Such a level of understanding cannot be taught.

And so Terry must also be considered one of the most naturally gifted players to ever grace the Premier League, something rarely said of combative defenders.

Five-time Premier League champion

PA:Press Association
Five-time Premier League champion

In 2004/05, Chelsea conceded just 15 goals all season.

Terry, in partnership with the impermeable Ricardo Carvalho, gave the greatest demonstration of a sustained defensive organisation and discipline in Premier League history.

The Blues racked up 25 clean sheets in the league that season. 25.

If the current Man City side are the most potent attacking force in Premier League history, then the mid-noughties Chelsea side are the most impenterable defensive unit.

And there can be no doubt that Terry was as responsible for this success as Jose Mourinho, or anyone else.

Clean sheets galore

Getty Images - Getty
Clean sheets galore

Terry exuded leadership from a young age.

He was proud to be a symbol of Chelsea as a whole.

There have always been suggestions that he took on a pseudo management role in his latter years at Stamford Bridge.

Roman Abramovich has never shied away from wielding the axe when it comes to managers and so Terry became the only long-serving authority at ground level.

Brothers in arms

Times Newspapers Ltd
Brothers in arms

Investment of Abramovich’s generosity invariably results in a merry-go-round of seismic egos.

Terry’s omnipresence as captain gave Chelsea a sense of identity, an anchor.

In truth, there is no real need to pick a standout from the nominees.

It is difficult to categorically state that any Premier League defender was better than Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Tony Adams, Sol Campbell and co.

But for me, Terry was that bloody good.


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