John Terry would like to respectfully take back a couple of remarks: but not the ones you think. His take on England’s rancid World Cup and losing the captaincy we will get to in a moment.
First, Terry would like to address something he said before the Champions League final in 2008. About not caring whether he counts his medals in a wheelchair, about being willing to pay the highest price for bravery on the football field. If it is all the same, he would like to reconsider.
Instead, he recounts the journey to this point. All the games played with pain-killing injections, the refusals to surrender when a knee or ankle was waving the white flag.
‘The last time I played fit?’ he echoes. ‘Maybe five years, maybe more, I can’t really remember. If you can take an anti-inflammatory and struggle through, you do. A lot of players would tell you that, and it happens most weeks. Games are not so bad because the adrenalin keeps you going, but training on a daily basis when every time you move it hurts, that is a real battle.
‘The pain from this injury is the worst I have had, there is no way I can continue, but even on Sunday against Sunderland as the goals were going in, I was thinking, “If I had played one more game, could I have made a difference?” I know a lot of people thought I was just ducking out of England but would be back to play for Chelsea against Birmingham City, but no. I’m 30 next month and I’ve got to start looking after myself.
‘It’s funny, I was reading what I said about ending up in a wheelchair the other day and I thought to myself, “You know mate, that’s probably not your best plan”.
‘I still say if the ball is there to be won I will go for it, whether with my head or whatever, and if it means us scoring or stopping a goal, I won’t think twice. But counting my medals in a wheelchair? I’d rather play with my kids in the garden, thank you very much. I hope people will appreciate that. I’d like to rethink the wheelchair idea, please.’
No apologies for the rest of it, though. When the conversation moves to Terry’s candid commentary on England’s performance in South Africa, the press conference that was interpreted as a direct challenge to the authority of manager Fabio Capello, Terry remains defiant.
He was not, he says, a bitter man still angry at losing the captaincy in World Cup year. His was no attempted coup, just frustration at a faltering campaign. But first we need to go back, to February 5, when after a succession of headlines that amounted to an annus horribilis for Terry, Capello decided he had to be removed as captain, for his own sake, and that of the team.
‘I understood the decision at the time,’ Terry insists. ‘Fabio said he wanted to take the spotlight off me, although if I am honest I thought it had the reverse effect. But I would never dislike him for that. He is the manager, he lives by his decisions.
‘People presume we fell out, but there was no shouting and screaming the day he told me. I accepted it. I said to Fabio I would continue to train and play exactly as I had before, then we shook hands and that was it. I’m not saying it was a good day. Only the penalty miss for Chelsea in the Champions League final hurt as much, but we have moved on.
‘I suppose the only time I felt disappointed was during the next game against Egypt, which was a friendly, and the armband got passed around between five or six players. I just felt, “OK, I’ve been stripped of the captaincy, but don’t take the p*** out of me”. Fabio had told me at the meeting that I was still a big voice in the dressing room and he wanted that to continue, but on the night it felt the opposite.
‘Had I got the armband third, even fourth, I would have been happy, but Steven Gerrard was captain and first he went off, then Frank Lampard got it, and then Lamps went off and they gave it to Gareth Barry, and then he went off and it was anybody’s. I think they would have given it to one of the stewards ahead of me. Even if it was a friendly, we were still there to win and you should put your best people in charge.
‘People might not like to hear this, but I just thought it was a little disrespectful. I had no choice but to get on with it, though. That is how I feel now. I don’t envisage I will be captain again, but for two England managers, Steve McClaren and Fabio Capello, I was their first choice and I’m proud of that.’
The argument runs that since then, and following the fall-out from his outspoken thoughts during the World Cup, Terry’s desire to play for his country has evaporated.
He denies this. He was absent again when a poor England team lost to France on Wednesday night, but, speaking before that match, says he has played just 45 minutes in an England shirt since because he has been carrying a serious injury, that Capello’s camp know the situation and are understanding.
‘Franco Baldini, Fabio’s No 2, phoned me a little while ago after one particular story and said he didn’t think I was shirking at all,’ Terry explains. ‘I appreciated that. We shouldn’t be hiding from each other. I said if Fabio or anyone felt that, they should tell me. I love playing for England, there is nothing better, and nothing has changed. I will carry on for as long as I can.
‘I think people didn’t understand what I was saying at the World Cup, they saw it as a challenge to Fabio, as if I was trying to take over. But I wasn’t shouting my mouth off. I was an England international who was possibly going to play his last World Cup game for his country that week. The same for Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, a lot of guys in that squad. We were in the last-chance saloon. Of course I was going to speak my mind in those circumstances.
‘Yes, maybe I could have been a little more sensitive. The impression I got was that people were asking, “Who does he think he is?” but at the time it happened the first reaction of a lot of people was that it needed to be said. Then, within 15 minutes, a positive had been turned into a negative and it was portrayed as an attempted coup.
‘All I wanted was to talk about how we had been playing and where we could go from there. I wasn’t trying to act as if I was still captain. You don’t have to be captain to have an opinion. When I had the armband, if someone had something to say, I would never think it undermined me. There can’t only be one voice in a team. People stirred it and created problems that weren‘t there at a bad time for us, but I never had an issue with one of the players. At least, nobody came to me.
‘If I had a problem with a team-mate I would deal with it and tell him, and I wouldn’t talk behind his back. I remember Wayne Rooney visited my room and, for a young guy, said some really mature things about the situation. Steven Gerrard told me on the training field that he had no problem with what I’d said.
‘Look, I am reluctant to say this, because I know what is coming, but it was quite slow at the camp in South Africa. It was probably the best facility at the tournament, but sometimes when everything is right there for you on site it is almost as if you are looked-after too well.
‘You get the odd golf day, or day off, but there is a reason people don’t go away to the same place for three or four weeks in the summer. I know the World Cup is not a holiday, and we are there to work, but if you think about how people work we all try to break the time up. For us it was the same view, the same food, the same room.
‘Particularly if the team is not playing well you want to change that routine. The training pitch was only 100 yards away from where we slept, and then we’d be in our rooms until dinner at 7.30pm.
‘We had stuff there, computers, darts tournaments, snooker tournaments, but after a week or so it became frustrating. There was a lot of time between matches and we were sitting around dwelling on our performances, on individual mistakes, and it doesn’t help. At a club the games come quicker. You think, “Stuff it, let’s win this next one and show them”. But those matches did not arrive soon enough for us.
‘There were outside pressures, too. We drew with the United States and then the next training session all the press were there, the cameramen, the photographers and the players get completely intimidated by that.
‘We were thinking, “Better not laugh today or we’ll be all over the front pages” — look at this lot giggling, they don’t care — and that couldn’t be further from the truth. So we can’t smile because we think we’ll be slated. We go back to the hotel and we’re watching footage of Brazil and Argentina training on television and they’re joking, smashing balls at each other, playing silly games.
‘Meanwhile, we’re scared to smile in case we get caught out. It’s not healthy. If that was a Chelsea defeat it would be gone, forgotten, a bit of banter and on we go again. But not England.
‘How can smiling be wrong? People think you are not focused if you look happy, but it doesn’t help to have 10 million people watching your every move. Maybe without that we would have done better, because we could put things to bed. You must have the balance between being serious as you get closer to the game and keeping it light through the week.
‘Trust your players; that is all I think. I’m not pointing fingers at anyone, but two days before a match over here I will be at the park with my kids, or taking them for an ice cream, so there is room to relax before matches. Then you get your game head on by Friday, and don’t want to see or hear from anybody else.’
It would be delusional to argue that Terry’s relationship with Capello has not been strained at times in the last 12 months, but what is plain is that the professional respect for England’s manager has never subsided. Terry may feel mistakes were made at the World Cup — and who doesn’t, including Capello? — but he also admires an attention to detail that belies the accusation that the national manager is just another foreign coach passing through English football, picking up the money.
‘From the very start, I was really impressed with Fabio,’ Terry says. ‘He has a very Italian style, but is really switched on, his training sessions are always interesting. Suddenly, he will stop and dig someone out, so he’s a little bit scary, like Jose Mourinho.
‘There is nothing worse than that moment when everything freezes. You just hope it is not you about to be picked on in front of the other 22 players, but he doesn’t care who it is. You hear this scream — “No!” — and then he’ll explain, “I told you to do it like this . . .”
‘He is always on at defenders about when the cross comes in, opening your body, not standing square, keep checking your forward, simple things like that. We are all aware of positional play, but he drums it in, whenever we meet up, time and again. Now every goal I see, I can notice a defender ball-watching and not having his body open. Even goals we concede at Chelsea.
‘We’ll meet up with England and he’ll mention one from three weeks ago and say, “You were too square”. You’ve only just walked through the door but he doesn’t forget a thing. You’re thinking, “S***, he’s told me off and I haven’t been here five minutes”. But he keeps you on your toes.
‘He’s got another thing about what to do when the keeper comes for a cross. At Chelsea, when that happens, Ashley Cole and I naturally tuck in behind and drop to the line to protect the goal.
‘Capello goes mad if you do that. If we drop back just by instinct during an England game, you can guarantee it will be the first clip on the tape at the next meeting. “Look, you are playing him onside now and him onside if he shoots. If the keeper does not catch it, that is his fault. I told you . . .”
‘Sometimes I will do it during a game and even in that split-second think, “S***, I’m in trouble now”. Sure enough, next tape, there it is. We’ve talked about it with him. Ashley cleared three off the line last year covering for Petr Cech, but he won’t have it. “I don’t care,” he says, “you’re with England now”.
‘It is nonsense about me not wanting to work with Capello. He is a great coach and I’m really disappointed not to have been around more this season. I played in the first friendly of the season even though I was struggling with injury because I thought it was important to show my face. I knew we were going to get booed, but I wanted to take it on the chin and move on and that’s what we did.’
It is unlikely Terry will be able to strike such robust attitudes for some time at least. His search for a resolution to his nerve problem has taken him to specialists in London and Italy and he does not yet know whether his recovery will be measured in weeks or months.
The days of captain indestructible are apparently over, although on the study wall of his house a reminder of the good old days remains. A shirt signed by Wayne Rooney, carries the message: ‘JT, sorry about the injury, can I have my stud back now?’
It refers to an incident at the end of the 2005-06 season, on the day Chelsea won the title, when
Rooney’s stud found its way into Terry’s ankle. Despite a 3-0 win over Manchester United, Mourinho would not let his captain leave the field.
‘It was pouring with blood,’ Terry recalls. ‘I had 10 stitches at half-time and an injection to numb it. I didn’t really want to go off, but every now and then I’d have a sly look at the bench, thinking he might want to take me off because we were winning well by then.
‘He wouldn’t even look at me. Didn’t give me the time of day. He was in one of those moods — “Nobody can beat us, nobody can compete with us, nobody can mess with our heads”.
‘By the end, I had the same attitude. I took pride in staying on. I thought, “I’m going to get through this, I’m going to be there right until the end”. But by then I was out of it. I couldn’t walk, I could barely stand up.’
Terry thinks for a second, realising how another story from the gory, gory days will be perceived. ‘You know,’ he adds, ‘I’m quite soft and gentle away from football. People who don’t know me, old ladies in the supermarket, often say they thought I would be more aggressive. They’re surprised if I’m nice. I don’t know what they think I’m going to do. Hit them with a two-footed tackle in the fruit and veg aisle, maybe.’
Not for a while yet, though. Not until he’s fit.
This interview is long but a rather interesting read