It’s behind the Times paywall, but if you can find it by some other means, Rory Smith’s excellent piece on John Terry today is worth the effort.
Smith makes the argument that Terry embodied English football’s addiction to demonstrative heroism, that great players are seen and not unseen. He uses Sir Alex Ferguson’s rejection of Japp Stam for not tackling enough as an example:
What the statistics did not tell Ferguson was why Stam was making fewer tackles. He was making fewer tackles because he did not need to make as many, because experience and age had improved his positioning so much. He was doing what Paolo Maldini made his calling card: defending without defending. He was not curing because he was preventing.
England does not appreciate this. This is a Roy of the Rovers nation, one in which passing was widely regarded as suspicious in football’s early years because it was not as manly as charging directly at your opposite number. This is a country where heroes put their bodies on the line, where they hurl themselves at the feet of their foe, where games are there to be taken by the scruff of the neck.
This is perhaps best demonstrated by John Terry’s two signature moments from the 2010 World Cup: his diving header against Slovenia, and his woeful positioning (alongside Matthew Upside) as Germany turned England on the counterattack.
In the former instance, John Terry makes a desperate lunge to stop a shot from Slovenia’s Zlatko Dedic. While the clearance was made off Glen Johnson’s shin, the lunge is remembered to this day as evidence of the Chelsea defender’s dedication to England.
In the latter instance, Terry has no pace, and allows Germany to stroll in the area.
No one can criticize Terry’s tenacity as a defender, his discipline as the last man. Yet his intelligence off the ball—a trait that, paradoxically, underlines the best defenders even as it removes them from our attention—was inconsistent. Not that anyone would have appreciated it anyway…