The ludicrous timing of John Terry's Chelsea exitby Andy Dillon / 19 April 2017, 12:06Tweet
ANTONIO CONTE has timed most things right this season.
The tactical overhaul at Arsenal back in September was not a moment too soon and paid instant dividends.
Even taking on the hardman role and putting striker Diego Costa firmly in his place after the uppity Spanish striker had a row with one of his coaches proved a springboard for success in January.
But the announcement on Monday that club captain John Terry is being cut loose after 22 years is perhaps the most significant of them all.
Coming just 24 hours after the 2-0 defeat at Manchester United which put Chelsea on yellow alert for the title it is hard to explain the reasoning behind the timing.
Announcing that a 36 year old defender who barely plays anymore is leaving is one thing.
But Terry is no ordinary man at Stamford Bridge. Even the 22 years service as boy and man is just the tip of the iceberg.
For if ever Chelsea boss Conte needed a strongman like Terry to see his title challenge over the line it is now.
Nerves are on edge at Chelsea. Two defeats in just over two weeks is worrying for a team which was 13 points clear of the pack just a short time ago.
Now Tottenham are breathing down their necks. There’s only four points in it with six games to go. And on Saturday Spurs could strike a huge blow to Chelsea’s once unshakeable confidence by winning the FA Cup semi final at Wembley.
What that would do to a Chelsea squad ravaged by sudden uncertainty and a stomach bug which has ripped through the dressing room is anyone’s guess but it won’t be pretty.
At times like this down the years successive Chelsea managers have called on one man to dig them out of a hole: John Terry.
More than 700 matches for the club, the most successful player in their history. That’s bye the bye.
Terry’s iron character and unflinching bravery has carried that team on his shoulders when required.
This is the guy who swallowed his tongue and nearly died on the pitch during the League Cup final against Arsenal.
He then got up and demanded to play on.
He has scored spectacular goals, put his head where it hurts and been the team’s sergeant major for two decades.
Declaring Terry’s imminent departure this week only sharpens the pain of what they are losing and even if this season ultimately ends in glory it asks the question what do Chelsea do in the future?
Do they have a player of such calibre as Terry in their ranks?
For his many faults, Terry is the man every army general would want leading his men ‘over the top’ even if it is to certain death.
He epitomises British bulldog spirit and look around the current Chelsea team without him and who else has that?
Gary Cahill has been Terry’s defensive partner for several seasons and has learnt much being at his shoulder.
But you cannot give him the leadership qualities that Terry was born with on a council Estate in East London.
Cahill will be a different kind of skipper. Perhaps football has moved on enough that captains of Terry’s design are no longer required.
But given the choice, every manager who is up against it would have a John Terry in their locker all year round and maybe wouldn’t let the world know just yet that he is now on his bike.