Aston Villa is gearing up to play one of the biggest matches in the club’s history this weekend as the Championship Playoff Final finally comes around. A long hard season ultimately comes down to one last game which will shape the fortunes of the club for the foreseeable future. Fulham is perhaps the toughest team we could’ve been pitted against, but there is a growing optimism that The Villans have the quality and experience to pull through. Key to the contribution of both that quality and experience is captain John Terry.
Now, this is where I take out that humble pie I’ve been baking and gorge myself silly on it because, at the point where Terry was about to sign for us last year, I wrote a piece about the cons of signing him.
The pros were obvious of course. One of the most committed defenders ever to pull on an England shirt. With his beloved Chelsea, he had done it all. No trophy was left unturned. He was a winner.
However, there were several factors that I was concerned with. First of all were the finances. Reports of wages hitting around £100k a week surely were too much for a Championship club. With Villa having major Financial Fair Play concerns, it seemed that we were somewhat putting all of our eggs in one basket. And we as a club had plenty of recent history in making terrible financial decisions. We literally couldn’t afford any more.
What about the fact that Terry would surely come in and demand the captaincy from James Chester and potentially unsettle the team? Was this about to become the John Terry show? Would the ego create major fractions amongst the players?
How about the fact that at the end of the day, Terry had proved himself thoroughly unlikeable throughout his career to all except Chelsea supporters? The Wayne Bridge business was a concern; how would that affect things in the dressing room? The racism scandal seemed to be conveniently swept under the carpet also. Could we expect similar behaviour? We couldn’t afford any sort of unrest.
And what about the little annoyances? The appearing on the pitch in full kit and shin pads to celebrate both the Champions League and Europa League victories despite being unavailable to play in those matches (which actually turned out to be a directive instructed by UEFA)? Or arranging his own choreographed 26th minute withdrawal in his final match for Chelsea? Not huge things but this was a guy everyone loved to hate; could we really just drop that and strike up an important rapport with this guy?
Most of all, could Terry even still cut it, even at Championship level? He was 36 when he signed. He had barely played for Chelsea during his last season with the Blues. Had injuries taken their toll? Would he even be able to play half of the fixtures, especially with so many Saturday-Tuesday slots scheduled in. Would it even be worth it? Was there a reason why it seemed the only Birmingham City appeared to be genuine rivals for his signature?
I’m pleased to admit that all of these fears have been emphatically smashed to bits.
Monetary concerns were alleviated almost instantly. Gone were the days of the club having clowns such as Tom Fox handing out ludicrous contracts and Villa actually negotiated a sensible deal. While the wages were still substantial for this level, a large chunk of Terry’s payment would only be forthcoming in the form of a promotion bonus. At last, we were incentivising contract terms rather than just allowing players to bleed the club whilst warming the bench. Furthermore, the deal was for just one year with an option to extend. So if it did go south, we were not stuck with a big earner on the wage bill for longer than necessary.
As for the captaincy, whether Terry demanded the armband or not, he was given it. And to be fair to Chester, there was never once any hint of an issue with that. By all accounts, it was unanimously felt that Terry was a natural choice to lead the team. It was no slight on Chester at all. But ultimately, when you have a figure like Terry in the side, to not utilise him in his full capacity was to miss a golden chance. And he has fully justified and merited the decision.
It was evident pretty quickly that his relationship with the other players and especially the supporters were easily made and that bond has only grown stronger and been cemented. The players have all at various points lauded as having the opportunity to play with such a significant figure as Terry. You only need to look at the impact he has had on Jack Grealish especially. Terry’s influence and professionalism may well have just been the making of the boyhood Villan.
As for the supporters, maybe David O’Leary was right all those years ago and we can be a fickle bunch. I expect at some point we had all derided Terry for one thing or another. But he is one of those players that you hate when he is opposing you, and when he becomes part of your club, you absolutely love him. It may be fickle, but it’s the way of the football world. Play for our team, do well, give it all you’ve got, and you’ll be loved no matter what. And that applies to every single fan of every single club around the world.
And boy, has Terry given it all he’s got. His passion has been like nothing else we’ve seen for years. You can see how much winning means to him. And I fully believe that has rubbed off onto the other members of the squad. Winning has become important again. Celebrating three points with the supporters has become something to be embraced and is personal. Rather than a standard polite clap before scuttling off, he’s got the players running up at the full-time whistle roaring in delight, celebrating exactly as the supporters in the stands are doing. After so many years of a disengagement, Terry has been momentously instrumental in reconnecting the fans with the club.
Of course, anyone can shout and scream, but we quickly saw that on the pitch Terry still possessed the class that was the hallmark of his game. He took a few games to find his rhythm but has since looked an absolute cut above. Seeing his composure on the ball, his passing range and his ability to read the game has been a joy. A broken ankle injury aside (in which he came back in just a little over two months), he has been ever-present otherwise. When we’ve had to play two games in three days, he’s been there.
Far from being a costly flop, Terry’s signing may actually be one of the most important pieces of business the club ever finalised. Off the pitch, he raised our profile at a time when it was on the wane and kept us relevant. Importantly, it also showed that we still had some sense of pulling power.
Yet his most important contribution could occur this weekend. If we do beat Fulham, a very large part of it will be down to John Terry. That unwavering winning mentality has permeated through the squad. There is a professionalism and dedication within the players that wasn’t there before. And whilst this isn’t of course solely down to Terry, he has unquestionably been a major part of creating and sustaining that.
This playoff final realistically represents the last time that Terry will ever have the chance to taste the success of a victory at Wembley. Of course, he has ten other men that he has to rely upon to achieve that too. But I can’t imagine a single one of them not responding wholeheartedly for their captain right now. For me, that gives us an edge over a very good Fulham side.
However it turns out on Saturday though, Terry has undoubtedly been a superb signing. And despite my fears almost twelve months ago, there has actually been no cons involved whatsoever, only positives. And I couldn’t be happier to have been proved wrong.
Whether he is with us or not next year remains to be seen. But if not, we’ll always look back fondly on the season that we had the mighty John Terry playing for the Villa.