Terry’s cap­taincy big­gest as­set for Conte’s new Chelsea

The African - - POT POURRI -

OF all the dec­la­ra­tions made re­cently, it was the words of Ma­rina Gra­novskaia that de­ter­mined the wis­dom of John Terry’s con­tract ex­ten­sion with Chelsea.

“(We) be­lieve he will be an im­por­tant fig­ure in the dress­ing room and on the pitch,” the Chelsea di­rec­tor said in a club state­ment that con­firmed Terry had put pen to pa­per on his one-year con­tract ex­ten­sion.

All the other fluff about his un­doubted leg­end along the King’s Road was just filler – we knew that al­ready. In­stead, Gra­novskaia was speak­ing as some­one who un­der­stands the sig­nif­i­cance of what an­other year with the 35-yearold means for a club that con­tin­ues to strug­gle with re­plac­ing him.

Rather than cast Terry aside and hope to find a player with his qual­i­ties, Chelsea have done the wise thing by en­sur­ing the flame of his lead­er­ship will be passed on grad­u­ally.

An­to­nio Conte is in­her­it­ing a club this sum­mer that is in a ma­jor state of flux. The Jose Mour­inho ex­per­i­ment didn’t work for a sec­ond time, and for the all de­sire to build the club’s fu­ture with him at its heart, his sack­ing has meant Chelsea are un­sure of where they’re headed.

The next few months are the most im­por­tant since 2003 when Ro­man Abramovich first bought the club. The events of 13 years ago were s o sig­nif­i­cant, not be­cause the Rus­sian’s for­tune made Chelsea into bona fide ti­tle con­tenders, but more be­cause he saved the club from fi­nan­cial obliv­ion.

This Chelsea be with­out Terry the fig­ure­head? The club doesn’t have an­other player like him to bond the board­room with the ter­races. He rep­re­sents some­thing so much more than just a player. It’s for that rea­son Gra­novskaia’s sen­ti­ments are so vi­tal. No­tice the em­pha­sis on the dress­ing room be­fore the pitch; Terry’s role is evolv­ing and the foot­ball is be­com­ing sec­ondary. Conte needs fig­ures like Terry to start his re­build­ing job in west Lon­don. A man­ager com­ing in, not fully un­der­stand­ing the cul­ture of English foot­ball and his new club, will re­quire help in be­ing full i ndoc­tri­nated in all of it. That alone will not make him a suc­cess, but it will def­i­nitely help. It would be too much for him to rein­vig­o­rate Chelsea by start­ing from zero. Not when this sea­son has shown how there is an­other ma­jor shift tak­ing place in English foot­ball, fu­elled by the in­vest­ment of global broad­cast­ers that are mak­ing ev­ery club flush.

Chelsea can no longer buy their way out of mis­takes like they have in the past. The need now is to work through their short­com­ings and demon­strate a col­lec­tive de­sire to main­tain their suc­cess. That’s done by re­in­forc­ing your strengths, not di­lut­ing or wip­ing them out al­to­gether.

When we con­sider Mour­inho’s love af­fair with Chelsea, more so than the tro­phies it was of­ten de­fined by, it was an af­fec­tion for the fans and Chelsea cul­ture that was re­cip­ro­cated. Blues sup­port­ers took to Mour­inho as he un­der­stood what the club was about and ma­nip­u­lated that to his ad­van­tage.

He took over in 2004 when Chelsea were still rel­a­tively new to their rich-kid sta­tus. It sat com­fort­ably on his shoul­ders, and from the out­set, it was his bullish char­ac­ter that would en­dear him to the Stam­ford Bridge crowd.

Mour­inho told Chelsea they shouldn’t feel em­bar­rassed by their de­sire to win things and be­come Eng­land’s dom­i­nant club. The es­tab­lished elite didn’t like it, but that was their prob­lem. He was in west Lon­don to win things, to wake up the sleep­ing gi­ant that had been doz­ing for too long.

He achieved that, although it was the way he went about his busi­ness that cap­tured the at­ten­tion and won over the af­fec­tions. A big part of it all was Terry’s pres­ence as cap­tain – the youth prod­uct who de­fied the big spend­ing to be­come Chelsea’s most vi­tal player.

Along with oth­ers such as Frank Lam­pard, they cre­ated the Chelsea ethos and de­liv­ered. They gen­er­ated the be­lief and held the club to­gether.

With Mour­inho out of the pic­ture, that part of Chelsea has gone. Conte’s task is to take the club in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion, but ul­ti­mately end up at the same lo­ca­tion. There’s an amount of tal­ent needed to do it, yet it needs to be moulded to­gether to cre­ate the co­he­sion that leads to suc­cess.

“Ev­ery­one knows I’m Chelsea through and through,” Terry said, per the club web­site. The most im­por­tant thing is that Conte and the Stam­ford Bridge board un­der­stand it, as the new man­ager’s task of re­build­ing the club has just got that bit eas­ier.

The ill-feel­ing that de­fined the past 12 months has been for­got­ten and Conte has stolen a march in his prepa­ra­tions for 2016/17, prov­ing Chelsea are much stronger with Terry than with­out. The cap­tain is the Blues’ big­gest as­set.

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