Chelsea don’t look like Chelsea without Mr Chelsea do they?
I’m not claiming all of the Blues’ current woes are down to the mysterious and continued absence of John Terry - or that they won’t enjoy plenty of success once he leaves Stamford Bridge – but for now it’s glaringly obvious the team is lost without him.
That’s unsurprising. The skipper has been their comfort blanket for years, and we all know what happens when a kid is first told that theirs has been thrown in the bin. Anxiety quickly takes over. We’re seeing that at Chelsea.
Inside a football dressing room weird decisions (and this is definitely one of those) will also often create a peculiar mood, and people forget that.
While every footballer’s view is skewed by self-interest, no one has a clearer grasp on who’s actually playing well (or badly) than the players themselves. So when a manager’s selection is at odds with what the team are expecting – or what they deem fair - the mood becomes unsettled. No one knows what to think.
This seems to be happening at the Bridge. I mean, how can Branislav Ivanovic continue to get ripped apart week in, week out, and not lose his place? As popular as the Serbian may be, and no matter how many brownie points he’s amassed over the years, his teammates will be thinking it just like we are.
Those who are benched will get the hump. Those who might replace him will presume they don’t have the manager’s trust. And everyone will take the view that Ivanovic is the manager’s ‘favourite’. This kind of resentful atmosphere isn’t healthy.
Leaving Terry on the bench as an unused substitute for four of the last five matches is perplexing. Opposition managers must have been delighted.
Unless the champions are covering up some sort of secret mega row between Jose and his captain – and it’s hard to believe this wouldn’t have leaked out had it been true - then it just doesn’t make sense.
What Chelsea gain in the speed and athleticism of Kurt Zouma (a defender with great potential) they lose in other areas. It’s not his fault, but at 20, the young Frenchman’s consistency, defensive acumen, organizational skills and decision-making can’t be expected to match Terry’s – and they don’t.
He knows it, and everyone else knows it too. This creates unnecessary pressure, and players start to fret. The gains of using Zouma at the skipper’s expense are marginal; the losses much more extreme.
Rumblings of discontent will be bubbling away too. Confident, brash, and unafraid to speak his mind, JT is a huge personality that’s had the run of the place for over a decade.
Having just enjoyed one of the finest campaigns of his career, as he sits on the bench watching his beloved Blues lose matches, no one can convince me he’s accepting the situation quietly, without fuss.
Even if Terry’s keen to avoid a confrontation with the boss, behind his back the knives must be out. Having two powerful figures at odds like this is bad for team spirit. You have to pull in the same direction.
Chelsea’s fans can see it, and are now voicing their disapproval too. “We want our captain back,” they sang in Porto as the skipper did a solo post-match 15-minute workout on the pitch on Tuesday. Displaying professionalism like that, in the aftermath of such a disappointing defeat, was Terry’s way of showing he still cares. It was a clever move.
Managers are under pressure make strange decisions. It’s happened since the beginning of time. Desperate to spark a positive reaction, we’ve seen so many gaffers ‘windmill’ and hope for the best, and that’s what it feels like Mourinho has been doing. His call to drop Terry was a big one, but it hasn’t worked.
Chelsea do eventually need to move on and learn to live without their captain - and soon enough they will - but for now the champions aren’t quite streetwise enough to survive in the wild without him.
He isn’t the quickest, but Terry is still the smartest defender they’ve got.
To recover their season, they need him back in the side.
Read more from Adrian Clarke