John Terry may no longer hold the England captaincy but the 29-year-old centre-half remains a key figure in the spine of Fabio Capello’s side.
The Londoner’s aerial power, physical courage, reading of the game and sheer will to win make him a natural-born leader whether he wears the armband or not. Indeed while Terry’s club Chelsea offer a symbol of how cosmopolitan the Premier League has become, their skipper himself belongs unmistakeably to that traditional English line of hard-tackling, teak-tough defenders.
Terry, initially a midfielder in Chelsea’s youth team before finding his place in defence, made the first of over 300 Premier League appearances for the London club aged 17 in October 1998. As a youngster he had trained with West Ham United and received an offer to join Manchester United. Instead he chose Chelsea and, save for a short loan stay at Nottingham Forest in 2000, he has spent his entire career at Stamford Bridge, rejecting interest from Manchester City last year to sign a new deal with the club.
As a young centre-back, Terry could not have asked for better players to learn alongside than French FIFA World Cup™ winners Marcel Desailly and Frank Leboeuf, yet by the 2000/01 season he had established himself as a first-team regular in his own right.
Terry’s England career began in June 2003 with his debut as a substitute in a friendly against Serbia and Montenegro. Within 12 months he had his first taste of a major international tournament at UEFA EURO 2004, appearing in all but one game as England reached the quarter-finals.
Terry captained Chelsea to successive Premier League titles in 2005 and 2006, becoming the club’s most successful skipper of all time. His efforts in the Blues’ 2004/05 championship campaign, which included eight goals in all competitions, earned him the acclaim of his fellow professionals who voted him English football’s Player of the Year.
Terry was an ever-present for England at the 2006 FIFA World Cup and took over the armband from fellow east Londoner David Beckham immediately afterwards, marking his elevation to the role by heading the opening goal of Steve McClaren’s reign as coach in a 4-0 win over Greece.
Unfortunately Terry was absent through injury for the key UEFA EURO 2008 qualifiers against Russia and Croatia in autumn 2007 – undoubtedly a factor in the defeats that cost England a berth in Austria/Switzerland.
Further disappointment lay in store for Terry when his missed penalty cost Chelsea the chance of UEFA Champions League glory in the 2008 final against Manchester United in Moscow.
Terry, who earned his 50th international cap in the March 2009 friendly against Slovakia, suffered another big setback in February this year when Capello stripped him of the England captaincy because of much-publicised problems in his personal life. Yet the “big personality” that the coach himself had praised when selecting Terry as his captain 18 months earlier should ensure that he shrugs aside that blow and plays a pivotal role in England’s back line in South Africa.