‘You can see the undoubted commercial appeals of signing John Terry, if Villa are convinced there is still gas in the tank.’
A teary-eyed John Terry called Chelsea fans “the best supporters in the world, without a shadow of a doubt”, as he completed his farewell speech at Stamford Bridge on the final day of last season.
It was clear to which club his heart will always belong to, as he set off into the sunset for one last pay-day as a player.
Now, the prospect of John Terry as a Aston Villa player has understandably caused something of a Marmite reaction amongst supporters. While his past achievements are undeniable, beyond his character being bought into disrepute several times in the past, there’s the fact, that in December, the centre-back will turn 37.
Terry will get his money, but what’s in this deal for Aston Villa?
It is 17 years ago, since Steve Bruce last tried to acquire the services of the former Chelsea centre-back. His offer of £750,000, while he was the manager of Huddersfield Town, was accepted by Chelsea, but turned down by the teenage Terry, who wanted to stay and fight for his place at Stamford Bridge.
Much has been made of the England international being a one-club captain since, but during this period of his Chelsea adolescence, Terry went out on loan to Nottingham Forest. He joined up with ex-Villa hero, David Platt, who was trying to manage Forest back into the Premier League, after their relegation from it, the previous season.
While Forest stuttered that season, in the six games that a young John Terry played, they never lost.
How Villa would love to extend that unbeaten Championship run for several more months at least, next season.
Terry returned to Chelsea to fight his way past the World Cup winning centre-back combo of Marcel Desailly and Frank Leboeuf, to become a modern-day Chelsea legend that defined Chelsea’s trophy-winning successes of the modern era.
Here and Now
The past is the past though, as any Villa supporter will know themselves, by their own team’s celebrated history. The fundamental concern is in the here and now, and in getting promotion next season.
The question is…Will the signing of Terry actually help Villa achieve that?
Is the Price Right?
Last week, MOMS labelled reports of a mooted £100k-a-week wage for Terry, nonsense. Fast-forward and subsequent reporting has it now lowered to the £60k-a-week mark.
Yes, Terry in 2007 was the highest paid player in the Premier League, but he was a decade younger. Today’s reality is he only played nine league games last season and missed a total of 10 games directly due to a couple of injuries.
There are of course other mitigating circumstances to his lack of appearance. Last season, Chelsea were the best team in England, so pretty much any top centre-back in Europe would have struggled for games in that line-up.
Yet, still, there is a danger of Villa paying for past reputation.
As we saw with Robert Pires’ brief stint at Villa, when he was aged 37, a player’s past glories don’t really help Villa on the pitch in the present.
Also, Terry’s much touted “winning mentality” is all well and good, when you’re surrounded by some of the best and most expensive players in the world, but what happens when he’s suddenly surrounded by a group of players struggling for identity and a way of playing?
Would he be able to inspire them?
If Terry’s actual wages are further south than press reports say, and lean more to a promotion bonus and being appearance-related, then you can see the undoubted commercial appeals of signing John Terry, if Villa are convinced there is still gas in the tank.
Being a name, the former England centre-back will impress the international market, especially Asia, the market Tony Xia is perhaps the most intent on conquering and spreading the Villa gospel.
Domestically, they’ll be positive effects on both shirt and season ticket sales too. Plus, the curiosity value of seeing Terry in a Villa shirt will pull in the casual or lapsed supporter to Villa Park.
Whatever faux-pas Terry has committed in the past, from Anton Ferdinand to Wayne Bridge, no doubt Xia will overlook these to gain the services of such a trophy player.
Commercially, despite the outlay, it may turn out to be a fair investment in the short-term, regardless of Villa’s season end position. At least, in the sense of balancing up the books on the acquisition.
For the signing to be an unmitigated success, it has to be the right football decision for the greater good of the team in helping it reach its goal of promotion.
If it doesn’t mesh well with that overall plan, it could turn out to be a stunt transfer that could be distracting to the promotion mission.
In terms of building a real team togetherness and focused mentality, that has been lacking in recent seasons, would Terry signing further hinder this?
It’s hard to be certain, as it could be as easily argued, that having such a talismanic figure may help bond the team together, if he leads by example.
On the Pitch
So when it comes to the pitch, practically, where does he fit in?
I think there’s already been clues in terms of how Terry will be played, from Steve Bruce’s usage of three centre-backs last season.
It’s certainly a logical formation to accommodate Terry, in the same way Brian Little used it to shepherd Paul McGrath along in his final days at Villa.
It allows the team to compensate for the ageing player’s loss of legs, but still benefit from his experience and prowess. With less of a workload, it would also give him longevity in terms of the amount of games in the season, he’ll be able to play.
The question in MOMS mind, that will be key to how a back three impacts on Villa’s promotional push, is where does Mile Jedinak play?
Villa are already too defensive.
It’s no secret that if Villa are to be in the promotion hunt, they have to sharpen up their ideas going forward. So, if Bruce elects to again play Jedinak as a defensive midfielder shielding the backline, ala last season, then Villa could be in trouble.
Granted, they’ll be hard to beat, but like last season, in could invite pressure that leaves us playing with a back six at times. Which will drastically hinder any improvement that is needed in the final third.
Jedinak as a midfielder was very conservative last season in terms of Villa’s forward play and rarely contributed to the attack.
What about a back three of Chester, Terry and Jedinak?
That could work. Jedinak did fill in the centre-back berth last season. You’d have a defence that would have an improved capability playing the ball out and could provide the foundations to the team becoming more progressive going forward.
You also wouldn’t have to sacrifice a more attack-minded midfielder.
I would give James Bree the nod over Alan Hutton, with Neil Taylor the other wing-back (with the option of Andre Green, against easier opposition).
It’s unlikely taking into account Terry’s age and injuries last season, that he’ll play most of Villa’s games next season, especially considering they’ll be a lot of weeks with two games.
I’m sure Villa will expect a ballpark figure of 25-30 appearances for the season, as a conservative estimate. If a back three works, then maybe more. Hopefully, his wages will reflect this accordingly.
Of course, despite the financial risk to obtaining the services of John Terry, there is certainly some merit to it, if it is integrated into making Villa a more effective team next season.
Yes, it won’t suddenly be pivotal into suddenly turning Villa into a promotion-bound team, as it also wouldn’t have if Birmingham City had signed him. But importantly, it could help and also it should give the players an immediate lift and help focus their minds on the task ahead.
Then it’s just a matter of Terry’s own motivation.
Frank Lampard had encouraged his former teammate to follow in his footsteps and head to the MLS. It’s not clear if any MLS team would be in the position in terms of the Designated Player Rule, that allows teams to attract international players outside the wage cap regulation, to offer Terry the $5m dollar-a-season wage ballpark figure he’d be looking for (and will probably get at Villa, if they are promoted next season).
Maybe if Terry was a year or two younger, he’d be a more attractive proposition to MLS teams. After all, an ageing defender perhaps isn’t seen as the glamourous signing, that say, Beckham, Gerrard and Lampard were.
Hopefully, this doesn’t mean that Villa was simply the best option he had in a financial sense.
If Terry’s mind and body are up for the claret and blue cause, then this maybe a signing well worth the gamble.
Follow MOMS on Twitter here at @oldmansaid