Love him or loathe him, the defender’s achievements at Stamford Bridge have been so momentous and his personality so powerful that it is not churlish to suggest that a large chunk of Chelsea history will in future be split into BJT and PJT – that’s before and post John Terry.
The same could be said of owner Roman Abramovich of course, who provided the funds and the ambition which gave Terry an opportunity to make an impact; but while the Russian billionaire went through 12 managers in 14 years it was often the club captain who kept it all together.
One season, when the hapless Avram Grant stepped in, the English media wrote that Terry was effectively running the team. It was meant as an insult, an example of unacceptable player power, but now Chelsea have to consider where they would be without that unifying power which has kept such a talented squad together for so long despite so much upheaval from above.
Much of Terry’s work goes unseen because he has dedicated his life to being Chelsea. It’s easy to say he does it because of ego and a lust for power – his decision to say goodbye to Stamford Bridge with an orchestrated 26th-minute substitution rather played into the hands of those who feel that way. But there are hundreds of youth team players who will publicly thank him for the support provided by a captain who turns up alone to watch the Under-19s play and who ensures every new signing is integrated into the Chelsea family.
Today at Wembley, Terry will have to watch from the bench and although he will jointly lift the trophy with Gary Cahill should Chelsea beat Arsenal, he knows that influence has gone; it is time for someone else to play the role and hold the team together.
“Listen, they will be fine without me,” Terry insists. “People like Gazz (Gary Cahill), Dave (Luiz), Cesar (Azpilicueta) and Cesc (Fabregas) are big characters within the dressing room. I think it’s important they go and win things because if things don’t go well people are going to say ‘they are missing John’. But my time’s gone, it’s time for the next generation to go and win things consistently and keep performing for this football club.”
Terry’s choice to replace him in the short-term is Cahill, who has been captain on the field for most of this season but who at the age of 32 in December may not necessarily be a long-term answer.
“I think he’s proved it this year and earned the right to be captain if the manager chooses to give it to him,” said Terry.
He’s the one to keep everyone going. He’s had to step into the role because of the transition of being in there to support me and he’s been brilliant.”
If Chelsea are looking for longer-term heroes then Eden Hazard, a reluctant captain for Belgium but nevertheless a huge influence on the pitch, could be a surprise consideration.
Certainly, Antonio Conte needs to find a way to keep the mercurial winger in west London and out of the clutches of Real Madrid, but going into today’s final the signs are encouraging because when asked if he dreamt of becoming a club legend like Terry, Hazard’s answer was interesting.
“Like him? No chance! But you know I’m still young, I’m still 26,” said Hazard. “I don’t think about it – but if I could be like him that would be good. I didn’t win a lot yet - I won a couple of titles, but him everything. I hope to have the same opportunities.
“It is good at Chelsea right now. We have this new manager, we have a couple of young players so everything is ready to build something.
“The last 10 years in Chelsea it was great. They won a lot of trophies, now it’s like a new generation. Lampard is finished, Didier Drogba is finished, Ashley Cole, John Terry now. So it’s a new generation, and we want to prove that the club is one of the best in the world. So we have to be ready for that.”
Hazard is certain there are enough leaders in the squad to replace Terry, even if he remains reluctant to pull on the armband himself.
“Me? Well we have a couple of players. We have some guys who have a lot of experience, so we are ready for that. We have a couple of leaders - I try to be one on the pitch and I try to do it for Belgium too and I am in my fifth year at Chelsea now. But we have a lot of guys who can do that.
“It’s normal, this situation because sometimes people leave the club. John Terry is a legend for us, the club, for all the fans. Next season he’s not here anymore, but some of the guys they are ready to take this opportunity.”
The real test for Chelsea will be whether they can continue to win trophies at the same remarkable rate as under the captaincy of Terry, who won 15 major pieces of silverware during his career at the club.
The signs, however, are good – and Hazard has already targeted the two missing on his own CV, starting with victory over Arsenal at Wembley.
“When I signed for Chelsea, in my head it was to win titles,” he said. “I won already two Premier League, one League Cup, one Europa League. It’s not bad - but it can be better! The FA Cup and Champions League next, why not?”
It seems like the mentality which has kept the Blues at the top for so long is still in place — but how it will survive in the PJT era remains an imponderable. Today will get a first glimpse of the future, but the real answer won’t be known until 2018 at the earliest.