On Thursday afternoon, the FA found John Terry guilty of "using abusive language" towards QPR’s Anton Ferdinand, abusive language that "included a reference to colour and/or race". The penalty for Terry will be a fine of £220,000 and a 4 match ban. It is this Chelsea fan’s opinion that Terry should buck up and shut up, serve the bloody ban, and count his lucky stars it wasn’t longer.
Perhaps part of the reason I am not so phased as other Chelsea fans is that we have two terrific centrebacks in David Luiz and Gary Cahill. This has not always been the case. When Luiz was at his worst last season (ironically, the QPR match in which Terry exchanged the words with Ferdinand that have gotten him this punishment), he was atrocious. He gave away a penalty, didn’t mark his player that led to Bosingwa getting sent off covering his error and all in all, gave a defensive performance as wild as his hair. Then there was the woeful game against Liverpool that led to Gary Neville giving his infamous appraisal of Luiz’s defending like “being controlled by a 10-year-old on a PlayStation”. Harsh words, but fair ones too. Similarly, Cahill didn’t find things smooth sailing either. His Champions League debut was away at Napoli, a game which saw Chelsea shipping 3 goals, and had it not been for some brilliant saves from Petr Cech and a goalline clearance from Ashley Cole, could have been much, much worse. It was a dark, gloomy time when Luiz and Cahill spent the night exchanging angry words, both blaming each other for their own mistakes.
Suddenly Luiz wasn’t just Sideshow Bob the joke who had nothing but a couple of dumb catchphrases, he was an international defender
But in football, as in life, there is always a chance for redemption. David Luiz is loved by Chelsea fans for his fabulous personality but after the debacle at Napoli he knew he let us down (possibly because some of us told him on Twitter), and had his own sort of mini-atonement with a goal against Bolton in the league that following weekend. He really got to make up for it, though, with his performance in the return leg against Napoli at Stamford Bridge, not to mention his homecoming at Benfica, assured performances where for once, he toned it down and stood firm, not letting the opposition attack go through him; two of his best performances in a Chelsea shirt. Suddenly he wasn’t just Sideshow Bob the joke who had nothing but a couple of dumb catchphrases, he was an international defender, worthy of the excess of £20million Chelsea paid for him.
Similarly, Gary Cahill erased the question marks hanging over his head about whether the step up from Bolton was too much for him. As with England and Bolton, Cahill is always handy for a goal or two, but it was the defensive side of his play that people scrutinized. And so, on 18th April (this journalist’s birthday, if you’re wondering when to deliver the flowers), Chelsea faced Barcelona at Stamford Bridge. Cahill started unsteadily; he visibly blew a sigh of relief when his challenge on Iniesta that led to the Spaniard falling was not met with a spot kick. Later on in the first half he found himself thanking his lucky stars for Cole and Cech, who, not for the first time, covered his mistakes. But after Chelsea took the lead on the stroke of half time, Drogba’s goal seemed to have imbued Cahill with more confidence. He was making interceptions, blocking vital shots. At one point he dispossessed Messi. Barcelona could not find their way through Chelsea’s robust defense and Cahill was just as much to thank for that as anyone else. The day I had my birthday was the night Gary Cahill became a man.
It was a cruel stroke of misfortune that, just as they were coming into their own, Luiz got blighted with injury (he went off in the FA Cup against Spurs), as did Cahill (Barcelona). For both men, their hamstring was the cause. Meanwhile, Chelsea were playing Barcelona at Camp Nou, having already lost Cahill to injury and then… Terry got himself sent off. The manner in which he got shown the red, for kneeing Sanchez in the back unceremoniously and needlessly – an act so unexplainable it led Jamie Redknapp, himself hardly the most cerebral of pundits, to dub Terry “stupid” - and the shoddy way in which he changed his story about six times after, means that I will never be a huge admirer of John Terry. This is a man, after all, who, had he let Kalou take the fifth penalty in the Champions League final in Moscow, would have seen Chelsea win the trophy that their fans and owner so craved. But no, Terry wanted that glory then, and it backfired.
Cahill is no longer regarded as a mere understudy
But in a sweet bout of self-inflected justice, Terry would not have his shot at glory in Munich 2012. Nor, worryingly, would Branislav Ivanovic, who got himself booked for scuffing up the penalty spot. It was worth it, looking back, as that, in addition to Cech’s octopus-limbed antics in goal combined to psych Messi out and cause him to miss the penalty, a crucial miss that aided Chelsea to the final. But with Ivanovic and Terry out, it meant Chelsea fans were sweating on David Luiz and Gary Cahill and their strained hamstrings.
As a matter of fact, both men played in the final. They did it with no preparation time whatsoever (they could not train lest it aggravate their injuries). And early on in the final, David Luiz felt a pop in his hamstring. But he persevered. Both men were imperious and earned plaudits all around for their heroic performances, all the more miraculous given that for their own sakes they probably shouldn’t have played, but put personal discomfort aside to get Chelsea fans the piece of silverware that they have so long craved. It is this kind of selflessness and bravery why Cahill is no longer regarded as a mere understudy, and Luiz just a cheeky chappy who’s good for a fun photo but not much more. They are bonafide, lion-hearted centrebacks.
The moral of this long-winded story is that I am not unduly fussed about John Terry. I would even go as far to say that the FA were lenient on him, the Suarez trial considered, but that’s a rant for another day, and would probably get me blacklisted from Stamford Bridge for the rest of my life. His is a useful player to Chelsea, undoubtedly, but hardly indispensable, as shown from Roberto di Matteo handing starts out evenly between the three central defenders this season. Whether he fights the ban or not, Chelsea will be fine without John Terry. After all, we coped without him in the Champions League final, and that didn’t go too badly.
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