Abramovich smile re­mains fixed as nerve­less ‘JT’ pulls a fast one

Terry turns the ta­bles on the Chelsea owner by giv­ing an ador­ing crowd ex­actly what they want

The Daily Telegraph - Total Football - - PREMIER LEAGUE - Paul Hay­ward CHIEF SPORTS WRITER at Stam­ford Bridge

Ro­man Abramovich laughed and clapped. But prob­a­bly not in sym­pa­thy. When John Terry stood on the pitch, telling an ador­ing crowd how much he wanted to stay at Chelsea, the club’s bil­lion­aire owner could see him­self be­ing out­flanked by an em­ployee who looked sure to leave un­til an ap­par­ently to­ken of­fer came his way.

In a po­lit­i­cal bat­tle away from Stam­ford Bridge, you would back Abramovich to make mince­meat of ‘JT’. Abramovich is pally with Vladimir Putin. The Chelsea cap­tain has no clout with world lead­ers. But hand him the stage when he has an agenda to pur­sue and there is only go­ing to be one win­ner in the eyes of the au­di­ence.

With as­ton­ish­ing chutz­pah, Terry turned an end-of-sea­son lap of honour into a peo­ple’s ul­ti­ma­tum to the board. In fair­ness, the sup­port­ers en­cour­aged him, but it still re­quired some nerve to turn this day into the John Terry show.

The key pas­sage is this: af­ter the crowd had sung “We want you to stay”, Terry re­sponded: “We all want the same thing. I want to fin­ish my ca­reer here. We have a few days when we’ll be speak­ing to the club. The club know that.”

An ex­trap­o­la­tion is that Terry was telling the owner to im­prove his of­fer or risk ridicule. No wonder Abramovich could not con­ceal his mirth. Terry, of course, was do­ing what house­hold names tend to do: look­ing af­ter No 1, while also claim­ing the high ground as Chelsea’s spir­i­tual leader.

With their su­per-late of­fer of a one-year con­tract ex­ten­sion, Chelsea might have thought they had de­fused a fan re­volt and trans­ferred the pres­sure back to Terry, who would be forced to choose be­tween a se­verely re­duced role (and salary) and walk­ing away from a team he has served for 20 years. That way, Chelsea could have said, “Well, we tried, but he chose an­other path”.

The late­ness of that ap­proach was the first clear sign that it was made with lit­tle real en­thu­si­asm. Had Chelsea wanted to keep Terry, surely they would have moved be­fore now. In­stead, they waited un­til two days be­fore this fi­nal fix­ture to an­nounce that a new deal was be­ing pro­posed.

Terry said that of­fer in­volved “a dif­fer­ent role”. He would need a few days to con­sider it. Trans­lated, this means it was for a lot less money, with re­duced play­ing time.

The orig­i­nal idea was that Terry would be cleared out in time for An­to­nio Conte’s ar­rival as man­ager. The Ital­ian would be spared the bur­den of be­ing the one to end a fa­mous ca­reer and Chelsea would cut away Terry’s po­lit­i­cal power, es­pe­cially with the fans. If that was the plan, it fell apart with Chelsea’s un­ex­pected U-turn, which they may have con­ceived as an of­fer Terry def­i­nitely could refuse and, there­fore, a round­about way of achiev­ing the de­sired end.

Cut to Chelsea ver­sus Le­ices­ter, a 1-1 draw that con­firmed Le­ices­ter’s 10-point mar­gin of vic­tory in the ti­tle race. On a day when Chelsea said hello again to Clau­dio Ranieri, sacked by Abramovich 12 years ago, the ques­tion was whether they would be say­ing a per­ma­nent good­bye to Terry. Con­tract of­fer or not, the sup­port­ers were hav­ing none of it. They had no time for Terry’s pos­si­ble £20 mil­lion move to China; no truck with the in­ter­nal pol­i­tics of a side brought low by play­ers who lack his war­rior spirit.

On that pitch, Terry started by con­grat­u­lat­ing Ranieri, his for­mer man­ager, and goaded Spurs, say­ing: “I’m just glad Tot­ten­ham haven’t won it.”

He praised the fans who stayed be­hind to cheer him, say­ing: “You’ve stuck with us through the thick and the thin. We’ve had some great times down the years and you’ve been a big part of that. I can as­sure you we’ll be back next year and chal­leng­ing for the ti­tle.”

He went on: “Chelsea has been my life, just like it’s been yours.” His voice fal­tered, his eyes welled with tears, just as at Fri­day’s endof-sea­son din­ner.

Be­fore his ad­dress, Terry had thrown shirts into the Matthew Hard­ing Stand as fans un­veiled a huge ban­ner of him, in­scribed: ‘Proper Chels’. In the 26th minute, in recog­ni­tion of his squad num­ber, the Stam­ford Bridge crowd held up plac­ards and again chanted: “We want you to stay.”

This sea­son, Chelsea fans have been in­creas­ingly em­bold­ened to stand up to Abramovich’s own­er­ship. The club could say they had bowed to their feel­ings by of­fer­ing Terry the new deal. But the fans could sense that the of­fer lacked con­vic­tion. So they picked their side, com­ing down in favour of a player they see as the an­swer to the club’s dra­matic col­lapse un­der Jose Mour­inho, even though he is 35.

So, by the end, the onus seemed to be back on Chelsea to look af­ter Terry and to lis­ten to the fans. Terry won this bat­tle but there is no guar­an­tee he will win the war. Abramovich grinned but was he smil­ing inside? Or did Terry’s ex­tra­or­di­nary po­lit­i­cal ma­noeu­vre vin­di­cate the ear­lier will­ing­ness to let him go?

Terry was look­ing af­ter No 1, while also claim­ing the high ground as Chelsea’s spir­i­tual leader

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