John Terry. A name that means different things for different people. Chelsea fans worship him and rightly so. Captain, leader legend. He’s arguably their greatest ever player, only rivalled by Frank Lampard. Among other fan bases though, the retired defender divides opinion and is by no means popular. Whether that be his infamous slip in the Champions League final, the Wayne Bridge saga or racial abuse allegations. Of course, we don’t condone any of these off the pitch actions whatsoever and they have certainly tainted his legacy as a professional footballer.
However, putting that to one side for this article, it’s only fair to recognise Terry’s greatness. Just to emphasise, we mean on the pitch. Virgil Van Dijk’s rise to the undisputed best defender in the world has clouded some people’s judgement. I don’t doubt the Dutchman’s incredible impact on Liverpool and how immense he’s been. We did an article on him HERE if you’re interested. He’s been instrumental in the 2019 Champions League triumph and now in what looks to be their maiden Premier League trophy. Extraordinary.
But recency bias can occasionally be an issue in debates. To say Van Dijk is already among the greatest Premier League defenders of ALL TIME is perhaps slightly premature. There are various reasons why, longevity being the main one. John Terry is in that select group and, in my opinion, the best ever.
John Terry v Rio Ferdinand – Trophies and accolades
Let’s begin with trophies. Very few defenders in Premier League history can match the cabinet that the former Chelsea centre back has. Five Premier League titles, five FA Cups, three League cups, one Champions League, one Europa League. He’s won it all at Stamford Bridge. There’s no denying that.
Only Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic can match it. The battle for the greatest defender, in my opinion, is between Ferdinand and Terry, so let’s delve into that for their silverware collection:
It’s neck and neck for the most part. If we include Community Shields, it’s 17 major honours for Terry compared to 14 for Ferdinand. The Manchester United legend won one more Premier League title, but six fewer domestic cups than his England compatriot. Both won a European title. Rio won more Community Shields and a Club World Cup. But then JT won a Europa League. Either way, based on trophies, they’re both elite and we can’t separate them on this metric alone.
So we’ll go to individual accolades. Ferdinand was in six PFA Premier League Team of the Years compared to Terry’s four. But other than that, the former Blues captain dominates individual awards. PFA Player of the Year in 2004/05, five appearances in the FIFA World XI compared to Ferdinand’s one entry. Four UEFA team of the year entries and three UEFA Club Defender of the Year awards. Ferdinand achieved neither.
These are just a selection of the awards most relevant to the two. It’s quite clear that individually, Terry is far more decorated than his former West Ham youth teammate. But you could argue a lot of these awards are based on the Champions League or competitions other than the Premier League. So, it’s worth taking a closer look at why I think Terry edges Ferdinand.
Why the former Chelsea and United defenders are ahead of the likes of Vincent Kompany, Tony Adams and Sol Campbell is their longevity. Appearing in 19 (492 appearances) and 21 (504 appearances) Premier League seasons respectively, Terry and Ferdinand are miles ahead of the rest.
They played instrumental roles in their teams’ glittering periods of success and remained at the top for almost their whole careers. You only have to look at their defences today to realise how much both sides miss their legends. They don’t make centre backs like this any more.
Rio Ferdinand – Credit where it’s due
Before I justify the title of this article, I need to give Rio Ferdinand the credit he’s due. The fact he broke the world record transfer fee for a defender TWICE is often brushed under the carpet. A testament to his career as a generational talent. The immense pressure he must have been under to deliver at Elland Road and then Old Trafford is unimaginable. Of course, he ended up surpassing expectations; helped greatly by his formidable partnership with Nemanja Vidic.
In many ways, you could say that the former Leeds United defender revolutionised defending. During his time at least. His confidence on the ball and ability to play out from the back, alongside his defending, was extraordinary. Technical ability for a defender was not as common as it is now and Ferdinand epitomised the phrase ‘Rolls-Royce defender’. You could argue he may have had an influence on Van Dijk’s playing style.
Therefore, my opinion doesn’t by any means lessen the achievements and legacy of Rio Ferdinand, just thought I’d make that clear.
2004-2008: Impenetrable and record breaking
So why is John Terry the greatest defender in Premier League history? In the words of Fabrizio Romano: Here we go!
To start with, we have to mention that incredible 2004/05 season. The season where Jose Mourinho and that Chelsea side cemented themselves in Premier League history. It so often goes under the radar as one of the greatest sides, because it doesn’t have an iconic title. Like United’s Treble Winners, City’s Centurions, Arsenal’s Invincibles etc.
Newly appointed club captain John Terry formed a formidable partnership with Ricardo Carvalho, playing a crucial role in the Blues’ Premier League title. They conceded just 15 GOALS in the entire season, a record that still stands to this day. 2004/05 was the least goals conceded and most clean sheets in football league history and Terry was at the heart `of it. Not to mention, they went on to win the league the following season too. Watertight is an understatement for the defence.
As the years went by, Terry continued to go from strength to strength. Both team and individual awards continued to accumulate. From 2004 until October 2008, Chelsea went unbeaten at home. 1462 days. 86 league games. A truly astonishing record. Their English captain was a reason for that and the ridiculousness of that record is a reflection of his greatness.
John Terry – Defensive intellect
The last ditch tackles, intelligent reading of the game, leadership. The list of Terry’s individual qualities is endless. But another feature of great centre backs are the composure and assurance they bring to the whole team. It helps improve the whole team when they know they can rely on a defender. Van Dijk really has had a similar effect at Liverpool.
The defensive qualities of Terry meant he was so difficult for forwards to dominate. He wasn’t the quickest or the flashiest by any means. Not as technically gifted, athletic or naturally gifted like Ferdinand. Yet he read the game superbly and pocketed forwards game after game, year after year.
You only have to look at the 2014/15 title winning season for Chelsea. 34-YEAR-OLD John Terry became the 2nd outfield player in Premier League history to play every minute of a side’s Premier League title-winning campaign. Where most defenders take a step down or retire, the veteran captained his side to another league title and didn’t miss a second of it. Remarkable fitness, desire and ultimately defensive skill at such an old age. Because let’s face it, at this point his legs were long gone.
Summary – John Terry is underappreciated
That is why John Terry is the greatest Premier League defender of all time. The trophies, the accolades, the 214 clean sheets, the 420 interceptions and an all-time league record 41 goals for defender. He was irreplaceable for well over a decade. People may disagree and say Ferdinand or Vidic were better. I just feel the honours, longevity and records speak for themselves for Terry.
His legacy is obviously tainted by his image OFF the pitch and actions unrelated to football. Perhaps why rival fans may not give him the credit for his achievements on it. Yet if we look at it solely from a football sense, I think JT edges everyone else.
Feel free to debate it in the comments below, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
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