Pat Nevin: Johnny T good

In his column this week, former Blue Pat Nevin reacts to the news John Terry’s career as a Chelsea player is coming to an end and reflects on Sunday’s Old Trafford match…


Let’s get the word legend out of the way immediately. John Terry has been a legend at this club and always will be. It is obviously an overused word in the modern era, but what is unusual is when anyone is actually considered a legendary figure while they are still at a club. In fact, JT has had legendary status for many years already in these parts and rightly so. The announcement he is departing was going to happen at some point, but it really will not seem like the same club when he has gone.

There will be plenty of homilies over the next few days and weeks and I suspect John, like most players, will be thinking about many things. He will be proud of the time he has spent at the club, the number of games he has played, the number of goals scored and denied, the captaincy of his club and his country, the trophy haul and of course, his leadership during the greatest era in the club’s history.

He will be equally proud of the way he treated many people around the game. For all the negative press he has had, you will find precious few people who have met him who found fault with his demeanour and attitude. Even that is secondary however. What he will want to be remembered for above everything else is for being a good player, a very good player, and arguably a true great even in the international sense. Personally I think he continued to improve right into his 30s, centre-backs often do, but his ever-growing intelligence on the field and his reading of the game really set him apart.

So the tributes will roll in and there will be many a montage built of his goals and tackles. What really has jumped out in the past few years has been the quality on the ball and the way he has rarely looked rattled. If it comes to him at any angle, it will be controlled, dealt with and passed - sometimes exquisitely to a team-mate 50 yards away. In simple terms, he is an extremely good footballer in every imaginable way. 

I suspect John will want to enjoy the last year or maybe two of his career, and to really enjoy that time, he has to be playing regularly. In my years watching, playing and commenting on football I have never met another individual who is so clearly cut out to be a manager. This is without doubt what he is going to do in the end. No one is a certainty to be successful in that particular job, but he is as close as you can get in my eyes to a stick-on.

Even so, I think he is right to carry on playing a little longer. However good management is, it doesn’t touch being a player. So John, enjoy it, you have put in the time with Chelsea and you deserve the swansong wherever your heart desires. Something tells me that one day we will see him back at the club to continue this incredible story. The most influential player the football club has ever had, do not be shocked if you are needed again.

I have to say I was surprised by how shocked people seemed to be by the result on Sunday at Old Trafford. It is worth getting it straight, Man United are on a monumentally good run without defeat. For all that they draw too many games, they have the biggest squad in terms of quality in the league and they were playing at home.

They had everything to play for in that they are striving for that Champions League place, which I have always felt they will get, and have a manager who is quite good technically and tactically! Actually he is better than quite good at the tactical side as we know more than anyone, but his inside knowledge of the Chelsea team was the killer on the day. He knew where to strangle our creativity and he managed to fire up his own players. On top of that they got lucky with both goals for different reasons (if the referee has missed Herrera’s hand ball in the build-up to the opening goal, the officials helping him surely must have seen it) and our lads had something of an off day as a group, not helped by Thibaut Courtois and Marcos Alonso being unavailable. In short, it was a perfect storm with so much to contend with and who said it was going to be easy anyway?

Actually, lots of people have recently suggested it would be a walk in the park for Chelsea but not me, not anyone at the club and very few of the Chelsea fans I have talked to have been anything other than realistic as well. The difficulties of last season under Jose underlined that nothing can be taken for granted at any club.

Antonio will have already watched re-runs of the game a few times by now and will be as forensic as Sherlock Holmes in trying to find out where it went wrong and what can be done in the future to find the answers. What is clear however is what Holmes himself would say - ‘The game’s afoot’ - and while we are on the hunt for points, Spurs are trying to hunt down the Blues. 

One of the notable aspects of the game at the weekend was that even though the likes of Eden Hazard was fouled as regularly as he was in the recent home game when we beat United in the Cup, he didn’t get nearly as many of those fouls given. That is what happens away from home and in simple terms, the top creative players have to deal with it and find answers themselves. It may be changing your position, you’re starting area or taking your marker to where he doesn’t want to be - wildly out of his comfort zone. 

You watch some top creative types when being followed by one man throughout and they dive consistently, trying to get that marker booked, hoping to change the odds in their favour. I would never advocate that, but if you can manipulate the situation so that your marker is taking you out when you are running at pace, rather than those close technical fouls when he comes in behind you and blocks you, then you are more likely to see the referee reaching for his pocket earlier. This is not diving, this is not cheating, always remember this is an opponent breaking the laws of the game by fouling you! It just looks more extreme to referees when it happens at pace and Eden has to make that be the case on these occasions. It will be a recurring theme for the rest of this season, because everyone will try to copy precisely the tactics Jose used at the weekend, so there has to be an adaptation.

In that Eden isn’t as used to that sort of detailed man-to-man marking in an almost Italian-style here in England, it is something he will work on, get better at and be advised on. Having said all that, somewhere in the back of Antonio Conte’s mind there will be a smidgeon of admiration for the job Ander Herrera did on Eden. Just recently I asked Antonio about his favourite games and the best players he played against. His answer was immediate. He was playing for Juventus against Napoli when he was detailed on a man-to-man marking role on Diego Maradona. He stopped Diego from creating, but on top of that he also scored an important goal when breaking off the Argentinean.

It is all part of the game, dark arts or not, and you have to find answers. I suspect with his history and background Antonio will have plenty of ideas on how to change things but this is certainly going to be the toughest little period of the season so far nonetheless. With two losses in the past four games, Spurs waiting at Wembley at the weekend, Southampton at home soon after and then a trip up to a resurgent Everton at Goodison in the next away league fixture, you can already write the headlines if there are any slip ups.

Actually I care little for that because I look at the bigger picture and remember that we all would have bitten any available hands off had we been offered the current scenario at the start of the season.

Everyone will look to Chelsea to see what the reaction is from the group. Shall they wilt or will that iron determination return in time? Can the lads handle the pressure in the run-in and will the back-up players perform now we might need them? All perfectly understandable questions but there is one not being asked as much. Can Spurs keep up their incredible run and what will happen if they have an off day over the next few weeks? Remember Chelsea can still afford to drop a few more points, Spurs cannot. Now that is real pressure and they have not really felt it yet, but they almost certainly will at some point between now and the end of the campaign.

The pressure is on, but it is on everyone.