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Wednesday, August 15, 2012
ESPNsoccernet: August 16, 10:08 AM UK
Time for Terry to step out of spotlight

Norman Hubbard

This time, he had a legitimate reason to wear the blue shirt and put his shinpads in. This time, however, there was no trophy for John Terry to hold aloft. The contrasts between Chelsea's last two competitive games are considerable, but particularly for their captain. He was an inappropriately dressed spectator when they won the Champions League in Munich in May, a triumph that, despite Didier Drogba's headline-grabbing heroics, owed much to the semi-fit central defenders Gary Cahill and David Luiz. Terry's suspension did not prevent him from emerging from the stands to insert himself at the centre of the celebrations. He was conspicuous again in Sunday's Community Shield and, in a different way, for the wrong reasons. It was Terry's weak clearance that led to Yaya Toure levelling the scores. A static Terry was unable to stop Carlos Tevez surging past him to put Manchester City ahead. His was a performance of worrying vulnerability, one that should prompt a rethink from Roberto Di Matteo. Whether or not the FA ban him for allegedly racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, Chelsea should end Terry's days as an automatic choice. That might seem an overreaction. The Community Shield's reduced status means it is easy to dismiss the conclusions it produces. For some, it is part of pre-season preparations and it is more important Terry finds his optimum form at Wigan on Sunday. After a summer that featured a European Championship and a court case, he returned to training later than most. Match sharpness usually takes time. And yet there was a predictability to what happened. Tevez has tormented Terry for years, most memorably in City's 4-2 win in February 2010, even if that game is more famous for Wayne Bridge's refusal to shake hands with his former team-mate. With his low centre of gravity, change of pace and constant running, the Argentine is precisely the sort of striker the Chelsea captain does not like playing against. Tevez's type are growing in number, too. His compatriot and City colleague Sergio Aguero shares some of the same characteristics. With Samir Nasri a midfield raider, Terry's task was to halt three short, quick players. His undoubted aerial ability was rendered irrelevant by the opposition. Examine the top teams and the trend is for forwards to become smaller and speedier. Javier Hernandez is a case in point and has three goals in four games against Chelsea, embarrassing their defence with a first-minute opener at Old Trafford in May 2011, while Wayne Rooney has seven strikes in nine matches. Without scoring, Luis Suarez embarrassed Terry at Anfield this May, even if it is remembered more for an uncharacteristically torrid evening against a target man, Andy Carroll. A week earlier, Papiss Cisse had troubled Terry when Newcastle won at Stamford Bridge. Rewind to last October and Robin van Persie, while less of a sprinter than the 31-year-old's other nemeses, outpaced him when scoring a hat-trick in Arsenal's 5-3 win. Increasingly, the high-class forwards' memory banks are filled with personal victories against this most daunting of defenders. The manner in which they won their individual battles should send a message to Di Matteo. So, too, should the Champions League final when the more mobile pair of Cahill and Luiz excelled. If two defenders whose adventurousness has raised past questions about their reliability can continue to display more responsibility and improve their positional sense, they should be paired in the major matches. It is not just that Terry is in decline. Football has changed over the course of his career. The sort of forwards  muscular and physical  with whom he has tussled, often successfully, may not be a dying breed, but they have fallen out of favour. When teams play 4-2-3-1, it is often with a quick striker and midfield runners arriving at pace. Terry is not best suited to halt either. He remains a very fine central defender, but only in certain circumstances. The backs-to-the-wall effort at home against Barcelona was one, England's summer campaign at Euro 2012 another. Roy Hodgson played to Terry's strengths in Ukraine and Poland, even if those who suggested he should be in the team of the tournament can scarcely have seen Sergio Ramos, Gerard Pique, Bruno Alves, Pepe and even Joleon Lescott. With a team defending deep, and holding midfielders sat just in front of him, Terry can be dominant in a small zone. In wide open spaces, his lack of speed is more evident. It was notable that in the quarter-final, Italy targeted Terry, looking to play passes in behind and catch him on the turn. Others will do likewise. When Andre Villas-Boas played his infamously high defensive line, his captain was left exposed. And while Di Matteo is unlikely to order his back four to reach the half-way line, Chelsea's more expansive approach poses problems in itself. If Fernando Torres is supported by Eden Hazard, Juan Mata and Oscar, they will effectively have four forwards. It will be harder to protect Terry and, with the remaining six outfield players required to occupy more space, it makes sense to pick the quicker options. Because while Terry's tub-thumping brand of defiance could remain invaluable in some situations - the football cliché of Stoke away springs to mind - the danger is that he will become a weak link in elite company. The man Stamford Bridge calls 'captain, leader, legend' could be captain, leader and liability.


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