by Martin North
John Terry has many aliases. “JT” is favored by those in the Matthew Harding Stand and Steve McClaren. Then there is the semi-ironic “Chelsea’s Brave John Terry” which morphs into “England's Brave John Terry” during international duty. And, until his latest fall from grace, “England Captain John Terry”.
In truth, there has always been more than one John Terry. The heroic figure we see on the pitch, diving headfirst into battle, seems a polar opposite to the scoundrel we read about, with a sense of disappointment or contempt (depending on your club allegiance), in the latest tabloid scoop.
Terry, it cannot be denied, has been an outstanding player for Chelsea and England. Coupled with his well-known bravery™ is no shortage of talent. It was Terry’s watertight partnership with Ricardo Carvalho that made Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea so formidable.
Named in the FIFPro World XI for five straight years (2005-2009), Terry was also the only Englishman to feature in the 2006 FIFA World Cup Team of the Tournament.
What Terry lacks in pace, he makes up for with an uncompromising style and shrewd defensive positioning. Perhaps his most overlooked skill is his ability to initiate Chelsea attacks with a passing accuracy rarely equaled in Europe.
Tears in Moscow laid bare the emotion that infuses Terry’s game; there is no question he is the sort of on-field chief coveted by managers. Fabio Capello’s faith in “Terry the Leader” was so strong that it eventually cost him his job.
As for Terry the person, a growing list of indiscretions paints an unflattering picture. But from the drunken abuse he and his Chelsea teammates allegedly doled out to American tourists at Heathrow on the day after 9/11 to parking his Bentley in a disabled space, most of Terry’s publicized misbehavior does seem more like immaturity than actual maliciousness.
The same can be said for accusations in 2009 that he accepted money from an undercover reporter for a private tour of Chelsea's training ground, as well as the alleged affair with Wayne Bridge’s ex-girlfriend that resulted in Terry losing the England captaincy for the first time in 2010.
A criminal charge of racist abuse is a far more serious matter, and until the case is resolved the FA took the only sensible course of action by relieving Terry of the England armband. Rightly or wrongly, the captaincy is a no longer purely a symbol of leadership on the pitch, but also of the moral character required to be an ambassador for the England brand.
Terry’s mix of strengths and weaknesses is very recognizable and very human. We see it in co-workers, family members, and in ourselves. But in this age of intense media attention, that fallibility simply isn’t good enough for an athlete so firmly in the public spotlight.
We demand that our heroes be better than us. Not only within their area of expertise, but also in their ability to control anger and resist temptations. The popularity of “family men” like David Beckham and Kaká is testament to our preference for clean-cut idols.
A third stint as England captain appears unlikely, and whoever takes over the England hot seat for EURO 2012 may decide against taking Terry altogether. Even if that effectively ends his England career, “JT” is still hugely popular at Stamford Bridge and would appear to have 3 or 4 more seasons left in the tank at Chelsea.
When he does eventually hang up his boots, which John Terry will you remember? The resolute defender who habitually put everything on the line for the cause? Or the imperfect human who’s misdemeanors, in the eyes of many, overshadowed his obvious ability?
Follow Martin North on Twitter @martinjnorth
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