Outgoing Chelsea legend John Terry will leave a confusing legacy

Terry helped <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/soccer/teams/chelsea/" data-ylk="slk:Chelsea">Chelsea</a> reach new heights. (Reuters)
Terry helped Chelsea reach new heights. (Reuters)

After two decades at the top, and some 800 combined appearances for Chelsea and England, it’s still sort of hard to know how to feel about John Terry.

He was, without a doubt, an all-time great defender. An immovable pillar of a man in central defense with a learned reading of the game and, when he needed it, a surprising finesse. For 16 seasons, he was the rock in Chelsea’s back four after winning a starting job in 2000. He remained there until, at age 36, he finally faded from the lineup under Antonio Conte this season, as Terry was found to be incompatible with the Italian manager’s three-man back line.

Terry was the lone constant between the Blues’ first Premier League title in half a century in 2005 and the expected fifth one in a 13 years, later this spring. He became a true icon of the club and he will leave after 22 years when this season is over, a decision that was announced on Monday.

Meanwhile, you could make an argument that he was England’s best central defender ever – possibly eclipsing Bobby Moore, although comparisons between generations tend to be futile. Terry made 78 appearances for England, although it could have been many more, had he not been forced to quit the national team in 2012.

Yet in spite of the four league titles (and counting), the five FA Cups, the three League Cups, the Champions League trophy and the Europe League title, all won with Chelsea, which Terry joined from West Ham when he was 14, a long shadow darkens the enormity of his achievements.

Because with Terry, there was so often some sort of trouble. And not the slipping-and-missing-the-decisive-penalty-kick-in-the-2008-Champions-League-final kind of trouble.

There was the time he got in a scrap with some Americans at an airport for apparently taunting them about 9/11. The time he parked his Bentley in a disabled spot. The time he was caught giving private, off-the-books tours of Chelsea’s practice facility. The time it was revealed he had a gambling debt of almost five million pounds. And then there was the alleged affair with a teammate’s girlfriend, for which he was briefly stripped of the England captaincy.

More seriously, there was the allegation and prosecution for a racist slur aimed at Anton Ferdinand of Queens Park Rangers, who also happened to be the younger brother of England teammate Rio Ferdinand. The brothers are of Saint Lucian descent.

Terry conceded that he had called Ferdinand a “f—— black c—“ but got out of a court conviction on a lack of evidence that he’d intended it as a racial slur. Terry insisted he had asked Ferdinand whether he’d thought Terry had called him that. Terry was fined and suspended by the Football Association, which found in its own report that his defense was “improbable, implausible and contrived.”

For a second time, Terry was stripped of the England captaincy and eventually resigned from the national team – probably under significant pressure from the federation. Some have laid England’s failure to advance past the quarterfinals at Euro 2012, happening in the middle of the Terry-Ferdinand case, at the feet of the captain’s ongoing scandal and the toll it took on the team. Rio Ferdinand was not selected for the tournament, probably to avoid conflict.

It was the last chance for England’s golden generation to win something.

But the far bigger grievance is that Terry never paid all that dearly for his behavior, other than a non-specific apology, a fine and a handful of games missed. In the Ferdinand case or at any other time.

And this was the duality of Terry. For his brilliance in a position where it’s hard to stand out, he always did as much to alienate his fans off the field – or on it – as he did to endear himself with his play.

Terry was both hero and villain. Equal measures of good and, most forgivingly, questionable.

Terry has an offer to stay at Chelsea in a non-playing role but has announced he’ll seek to continue his career elsewhere. Wherever he plays, chances are the final telling of his career won’t become any less conflicted.

???? @chelseafc

A post shared by John Terry (@johnterry.26) on Apr 17, 2017 at 9:01am PDT

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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