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NEW CHAPTER BEGINS
After 22 years at Chelsea, the next and likely final chapter of John Terry’s career became apparent on Monday, as his move to Championship side Aston Villa was confirmed.
Rejecting offers from Premier League clubs as well as more lucrative opportunities overseas, the former England captain’s decision has come as a surprise to many. However, the centre-back’s relationship with Steve Bruce and apparent desire to fire the Midlands outfit back up to the top-flight saw him take on an unexpected challenge.
For Villa it has understandably been billed as a real coup, and provided the 36-year-old can get up to speed with his new teammates when he joins up with the squad on their training camp in Portugal, that should prove to be the case. There are viable concerns over the veteran’s ability to return to his old self after a season on the sidelines at Stamford Bridge though.
As far as the Championship is concerned, it’s an unforgiving league on tired legs, with 46 games crammed into nine months, not to mention the possibility of cup runs or indeed the potential lottery of the play-offs. While it seems likely, then, that Terry would need to be used with caution on such a frequent basis, centre-back is the last position that you really want to be operating a rotation policy, with that partnership so crucial in such a notoriously competitive league.
Provided he does stay fit, what the Chelsea legend offers is common knowledge, putting his body on the line whilst instilling a sense of calm in possession that Villa certainly lack. Since his arrival Bruce has insisted that he wants the side to play in a more positive way, trusting themselves in possession, but they proved to be empty claims for much of last season.
The team very rarely looked to build attacks patiently from the back, which is something that Terry has done for his entire career. While he’s a committed and no-nonsense style of defender, the new signing is certainly not one to aimlessly punt the ball upfield. Over the last six seasons his pass accuracy has never dropped below 88% in the league, while a figure of 92.2% in an albeit limited role last season was the best of any Blues player to start more than once.
If Bruce does look to change the side’s approach over the summer, a new possession-based system would have to stem from defence, so Terry is undeniably a shrewd acquisition in that regard. Out of possession he relies on his vast experience to read the game, which prevents his lack of pace from being exposed and means he is rarely forced into tackles. The rest of the Villa backline, however, will need to be organised to ensure that their new recruit isn’t left in a foot race that he’s unlikely to win.
DRESSING ROOM IMPACT
It is, though, Terry’s influence off the pitch as much as on it that no doubt appeals most to Steve Bruce. Villa, after all, boasted a very respectable defensive record last season, with a tally of 48 goals conceded bettered by just four other Championship sides, while it was their attack that was found wanting more often than not.
That said, there were clear issues in terms of organisation in the absence of Mile Jedinak in particular, whose authority in the middle of the park made the team hard to beat in his presence and so fallible in his absence. Indeed, just one of Villa’s 16 league wins last season came in the 13 matches that the Australian missed through injury.
While the two don’t play in the same position, their experience will be pivotal, with Bruce relying on Terry’s influence and winning mentality to plug the void should Jedinak succumb to spells on the sidelines as frequently as last season. The Englishman was known for being a huge character and leader in the Chelsea dressing room and is likely to prove as much next season. His task will be to whip a squad that has underachieved – accused of lacking that drive and steel so vital to any kind of success – into a shape that it hasn’t been in for many years.
Aston Villa has been a club in worrying decline for some time. It remains to be seen whether Terry’s arrival can help to stop the rot or whether the ageing centre-half will follow suit. For the time being, Villa are at the envy of more than a handful of clubs, not just within the Championship but also England’s top tier following a signing that has issued a real statement of intent.
Martin is the content manager for WhoScored.com
You can follow more of his tips on Twitter @WSTipster