Chelsea's controversial captain, leader, legend John Terry stands with Tony Adams as an English defensive icon

JOHN DILLON
Adams and Terry: Two London legends: Getty Images

The most fitting compliment that could be paid to John Terry as he departs from Chelsea is that could still be playing for England now.

At the very least, the national side has never looked half so secure defensively since he quit the international scene.

Not even now, five years after his 78th and final cap.

Ferociously combative and physical, imposingly raw and tough, it was always the uncompromising and aggressive qualities of Terry's play which caught the eye first.

But, undoubtedly, he was also one of the finest centre-backs this country has produced when it came to the more cerebral matters of defensive understanding, vision, comprehension and anticipation.

He stands as the equal of Arsenal's Tony Adams when it comes to these abilities, and that is very high praise indeed.

But he won more as the leader and iconic figurehead of his club than Adams did - and that makes Terry the greatest Englishman in his role of the modern era, who claimed 14 major honours in 22 years with Chelsea.

It must be said that he was also a specialist at creating the wrong kind of headlines as well as the right ones.

That he was hit by race and sex scandals of enormous, heated proportions and extraordinary divisiveness even while he was driving Chelsea through an unprecedented era of glory and success following the arrivals at Stamford Bridge of Roman Abramovich and Jose Mourinho.

He even ended up in court and was cleared over allegations that he abused Anton Ferdinand.

England manager, Fabio Capello, resigned in the wake of the incident when he was forbidden by an FA ban to pick him for his side.

These matters will always darken the memories of Terry's career for both club and country. There is no getting away from that.

They made him hugely unpopular - a fact in direct contrast to the adulation he won from Chelsea's fans as their home-grown standard bearer, who had nailed himself to their cause as little more than a child, even though he was raised in the heart of West Ham territory.

But, without trivialising the nature of the extreme situations in which Terry became embroiled, they were also proof that nothing around him happened by halves.

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Opposition fans seized on his troubles to taunt him mercilessly. Not only did this fail to deter him in the slightest from his mission on the pitch; it was also evidence by way of the back-handed compliment of his giant stature in the game, and recognition of his huge talent.

He was already a major figure for club and country before Mourinho's arrival in SW19. But they could have been made for each other.

The Special One expanded the foreign presence at the club, but it was Terry and his English colleague Frank Lampard who embodied most of all what Mourinho created at the club in his whirlwind first spell at the club between 2004 and 2007.

Terry did it again the second time around with Mourinho when he played in all 38 games of the triumphant 2014/15 title-winning campaign.

That isn’t so long ago, which is why it still seems feasible that Terry could play for England now - even though he had appeared only fleetingly under the new command of Antonio Conte.

On and on through a succession of managers who followed Mourinho, Terry led right from the front as the trophies continued to roll in.

Most foreign coaches have little time for English defenders if truth be known.

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None ever contemplated ditching Terry. And Conte has only done it because of his age. This is what proves how clever and perceptive a centre-back he has been, as well as one of the most intensely competitive English football has known.

Have you never wondered how England's dismal campaign at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil might have panned out if Terry had been around to handle Uruguay's rampant Luis Suarez in Sao Paolo?

The great irony of his career was that he missed Chelsea's greatest triumph - the 2012 Champions League win in Munich - through suspension.

There was something Shakespearian about that denial. It felt like fate's payback for the way Terry had gambled with trouble off the pitch.

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Undeterred by public mockery, he put on his kit and joined in the post-match celebrations on the turf.

Who could argue that he hadn't earned the right to place himself at the heart of Chelsea's finest hour?

More than any other of the idols of The Shed and its modern incarnations, Terry is the most iconic and dramatic player in Chelsea's history.

There is unlikely to be another like him again.

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