'Captain Controversial,' Terry takes centrestage yet again
It's a clichéd storyline - The 'hero,' in the face of extreme adversity, displays courage and determination to overcome the odds in a thrilling climax.
He can hardly be considered a 'hero,' except perhaps by die-hard Chelsea fans, but John Terry did his best impression of the heroic captain against Tottenham Hotspur on Thursday, barely 24 hours after becoming the first footballer to face criminal charges over alleged racist remarks towards Queens Park Rangers' Anton Ferdinand in a league game back in October.
The setting couldn't have been more hostile than a hotly-contested London derby at White Hart Lane, and the match gained even more significance as both teams harboured legitimate, albeit slightly optimistic, title ambitions. With the Manchester clubs continuing their charge at the top a day earlier, the stage was set and the pressure was on.
The end-to-end action on the pitch was mirrored by a vociferous, yet predictable battle in the stands. Tottenham supporters targeted Terry right from warm-up onwards, but their prolonged abuse was met with equally vocal backing for their captain from the visiting Chelsea fans.
The man in the spotlight, again, played his full part too. The bravado was on display as he walked out, defiance written on his face as he patted the Chelsea badge on his shirt and waved to his supporters. The start was less assured, and he was at some fault for Emmanuel Adebayor's opener, but as the taunts got louder, Terry grew into the game. He took charge of the defence after a forced re-shuffle due to Branislav Ivanovic's injury; he survived a painful tackle from Adebayor that left him on the ground; he even came up front on occasions, though his second-half header was straight at Spurs goalkeeper Brad Friedel.
It was, what one might call, a vintage Terry performance, and it was almost inevitable that he would have the final say. In the dying minutes, Adebayor's shot had beaten Petr Cech and looked certain to steal a win for the hosts. But in came Terry to save the day, his last-ditch sliding block on the line ensuring Chelsea finished a tough night with a deserved point.
The skipper made his point as well. The match over, he went to salute the traveling fans, taking off his shirt and giving it to an elderly lady, before thumping his bare-chested self on the heart. It was, again, a typical Terry show of strength.
Unfortunately for him though, the script is all too familiar, as Adebayor rightly pointed out later on. "John Terry showed great personality, great character and did very well," said the Spurs striker. "You learn to deal with things through experience. It's not the first problem he's had in his life or in his career. He has had a couple of problems already and he knows how to deal with them."
Indeed, the list of controversies that have dogged the 31-year-old throughout his career can put Mario Balotelli in shade. From parking in a spot for disabled drivers, gambling a reported 40,000 Pounds with friends on horse racing, drunkenly mocking American tourists soon after the 9/11 attacks, being charged with assault after a nightclub confrontation, taking money to facilitate private tours of Chelsea's training ground, to even public urination, Terry has frequently made the back pages of the ever-eager tabloids.
His personal life has not been spared either, with numerous reports of affairs finally coming to a head last year when he lost the England captaincy over allegations of an affair with teammate Wayne Bridge's ex-girlfriend. Even his parents have made news, with his father filmed selling cocaine and his mother getting cautioned for shoplifting.
Each time the scrutiny has been intense, the chants insulting, the detractors many. Yet each time Terry has responded resiliently on the pitch, showing a remarkable ability to ignore the turmoil outside and focus on the job at hand. If anything, the performance levels have only gone up in the times of adversity, be it for club or country, ensuring continuing support for their inspirational captain from a succession of Chelsea managers and a return to England captaincy in February this year.
That captaincy is in doubt once more, and with Terry due to appear in court next February, there are bound to be a few more dramatic turns before this story reaches its final act. The defender must, of course, be assumed innocent until proven guilty. It should also be pointed out that making a racist remark in the heat of a volatile football match, though condemnable, is very different to being a racist. As Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger said, "There's a real debate about how much credit you can give to something that is said on the pitch in a passionate situation. I've worked for 15 years in England and I have been abused how many times? Yes, there is an issue [with racism], but there is an issue of all kinds of abuse." Indeed, it is hard to imagine that Terry could have led Chelsea and England teams that have had, at times, seven to eight players of non-white origins for so many years, were he a racist.
At the same though, the charge of racist abuse is far more serious than any of his previous misdemeanours, so much so that even Chelsea's official Twitter feed described Terry as their "under-fire skipper." If found guilty, the repercussions could be severe, both on and off the pitch. With his career and reputation on the line, Terry, of course, has vowed to "fight tooth and nail" to clear his name. He is likely to show similar tenacity on the field as well. For there is a lot not to like about Terry, be it is aggressive behaviour, hard tackles or controversial lifestyle, but like Andre Villas-Boas said, "His commitment is never in doubt. His effort for the collective is extraordinary." Just like the typical hero he seeks to be.