Football is a game littered with a whole plethora of "what-ifs." And "maybes." For every kid who gets to play on the Premier League stage there are at least 10,000 heartbreaking hard-luck stories -- fortunately for Chelsea fans, John Terry's isn't one of them. It's quite the opposite, in fact. JT's journey to glory from the Blues' youth academy, to breaking into the first team, going on to becoming club captain and leading the national side, as well as winning medals right, left and centre is a rarity in the modern game, particularly in England -- especially at Chelsea.
Indeed the debate still rages as to why, despite Roman Abramovich's phenomenal investment in the state-of-the-art training facility at Cobham, John Terry remains the only Blues player to have cemented a regular berth in the starting lineups of the procession of managers he has worked with since Oct. 28, 1998, when Gianluca Vialli gave a fresh-faced 17-year-old Terry his debut as a late substitute in a League Cup tie with Aston Villa.
Almost 15 years later, at the age of 32, JT may well be in the twilight of his playing career, but as Blues supporters and players alike were applauding the return of Jose Mourinho to Stamford Bridge, none would have been cheering louder than Terry, Chelsea's captain, leader and legend, who clearly recognized the opportunity for one last great hurrah as the Special One sets his stall out to bring the Premier League trophy back to SW6.
Terry cut his defensive teeth in the late 90s understudying World Cup winners Marcel Desailly and Frank Leboeuf. After Terry had spent a short loan spell at Nottingham Forest, Claudio Ranieri -- brought in to manage Chelsea following the sacking of Vialli in September 2000 -- afforded him the opportunity to establish himself in the Blues' first team, and JT took his chance well. Early in his career he impressed enough to be voted Chelsea's player of the year in 2001, the same year he would captain them for the first time.
Under Ranieri, whenever regular captain Desailly was unavailable, it was Terry whom the Italian entrusted with the armband. In the summer of 2004, with Ranieri and Desailly departed, one of the first things Jose Mourinho did was to make Terry the Chelsea club captain on a permanent basis. With this, the Blues went on to win the title in the season that followed, with JT's world-class ability being recognized by the PFA, who voted him player of the year.
What followed for Terry is the stuff of legend, with the dramatic events that have surrounded his life both on and off the pitch regularly catapulting the talismanic defender into the headlines for sufficiently diverse reasons to give a scriptwriter enough material for an Oscar-winning screenplay.
On the pitch: 574 appearances for Chelsea, 78 England caps. Fifty-five goals for club, six for country. Three Premier League winner's medals, five FA Cups, two League Cups. Slipping and missing the goal with what could have been a Champions League-winning penalty in Moscow, 2008, and missing the triumphant Munich final through suspension four years later. There have been red cards, yellow cards and an allegation of racist abuse for which a "not guilty" verdict was reached in a court of law -- and a "guilty" verdict reached by the FA.
Off the pitch: Injunctions and super-injunctions surrounded Terry's extramarital affair with the former girlfriend of former team-mate Wayne Bridge -- the scandal temporarily cost JT the England captaincy and led to an estimated global television audience of one billion tuning in to see whether the two men would shake hands when they came face-to-face in the prematch preamble when Bridge's new club, Manchester City, played Chelsea in February 2010.
In short, Terry has had a truly remarkable life thus far and is a bona fide Premier League superstar -- though I'm sure he sometimes wonders how things might have mapped out had he agreed to a £750,000 move to Huddersfield Town in 2000, when Terriers then-manager, Steve Bruce, had espied and coveted a young JT during that loan period at Forest. Chelsea, with Vialli at the helm, had been keen to do the deal, but Terry didn't want to go and the rest, to employ a much-used phrase, is history.
Fast-forward to summer 2013 and Terry -- having been dogged for the past couple of seasons by injury, marginalized by Andre Villas-Boas and Rafael Benitez and hounded by the media -- looks to be in a very good place both personally and professionally. With an assortment of paparazzi snaps showing a contented JT on holiday with his family followed by the reunification with Mourinho and an assured preseason, Chelsea's captain looks set fair to start the new campaign on the pitch rather than bench.
The first time around, Mourinho made Terry one of his "untouchables." This time the Portuguese will utilize JT more sparingly, but it will be the key matches in which he features. The games when his steely leadership qualities will be required to motivate and marshal the bevy of talented youngsters around him.
Terry knows how to win. Mourinho has to win. For him, failure is not an option. As in 2004, when Mourinho first placed his trust in Terry, so in 2013 he will again. Once more Chelsea's captain, leader, legend is ready to do battle -- to rise to the challenge, to become a champion. There's plenty of life in the old warhorse yet.