The scenario can be painted even now.
The camera will be focused on Rafael Benítez as the Kop bellow their anthem while, on the fringes of all the hullabaloo, John Terry shuffles into his seat behind the bench at Anfield. He might even be wearing something akin to a scowl as he does so, even if he is becoming reluctantly accustomed to life on the periphery.
The management's selection will become clear just ahead of kick-off on Sunday, but recent reality dictates it would constitute a surprise now if the Chelsea club captain did not begin against Liverpool among the substitutes. The interim manager's policy of rotation is well established with the centre-half locked into a cycle where he sits out what might be deemed the more glamorous occasions and, instead, features in the scraps, however critical, round the edges. His was a watching brief at Wembley last Sunday. Fulham at Craven Cottage on Wednesday was a throwback to when he felt integral.
There was an admission after that two-goal performance in midweek that he is none the wiser as to where he stands "in the pecking order", even if he accepts the need to rotate the squad in a campaign that lurches into a 61st fixture on Merseyside. Even so, to recognise that he has fallen behind Branislav Ivanovic and David Luiz as first choice, and with Gary Cahill to return to the fray next week, must still sting. Terry has started nine Premier League games this season and it was against Liverpool back in November, when Roberto Di Matteo was still in charge, that he returned from domestic suspension and damaged his knee ligaments. Benítez inherited a veteran in rehabilitation, the treatment complicated and protracted before he could be restored to contention. He is fit again now but the manager, wary of the 32-year-old's apparent susceptibility to slippery pace, has alternatives.
Perhaps it is inevitable that, with a player who has felt untouchable for so long suddenly seeming marginalised, conspiracy theories abound. Terry has 14 months to run on his £150,000-a-week contract and, as yet, no firm talks have begun over an extension. The Chelsea hierarchy supported their captain through his court case over the Anton Ferdinand affair – he was acquitted of racially abusing the QPR defender – and during the subsequent Football Association disciplinary process, dealing with the issue internally once Terry had been fined £220,000 and banned for four matches by the governing body. Yet they recognise the negative impact the incident had on the club – and Terry was again prominent on the back pages on Saturday after refusing to shake hands with the FA chairman, Lord Bernstein. The natural extension of that is to wonder whether it might impact upon negotiations over a contract extension.
Such a deal would have an extra 12 months on offer anyway given the club's recently adopted policy of one-year deals for players over 30. Ashley Cole signed his in January. Frank Lampard is considered further entrenched in the twilight of his career and does not even warrant an offer. The same may apply for Terry. In fact, one theory goes that senior figures at the club might not be averse to being rid of Lampard and Terry this summer so the manager who takes over in June starts completely afresh without players so steeped in ancien regimes on the scene. Terry, it goes, might be sold to clear the decks. Galatasaray and Fenerbahce are interested and could meet his wage demands. Clubs from the Gulf would do likewise. West Ham, remarkably, have even been mooted as a possible destination for a centre-back born in Barking.
And yet, step back and it seems inconceivable that Terry would countenance an early departure from Stamford Bridge. A payday abroad might be an option one day but he still relishes life in the Premier League, and who away from this corner of south-west London would be able to match his current salary and keen to take him on? Regardless, while this is a figure who may be divisive outside the club, he is still worshipped by Chelsea's rank and file support, a player who is convinced he has plenty to offer a team that still aspires to make its mark on the Champions League despite this campaign's blip. Lost amid his praise for David Luiz's candidacy as a long-term Chelsea captain was the line "hopefully I have a few years left". Benítez will leave after the post-season tour of the United States and Terry will have a new manager to convince. It may be José Mourinho. Even with aching joints, he would back himself to make a positive impact.
As for doubts within the hierarchy over his value to the collective, it was back in December when one senior figure privately suggested the side had appeared rudderless "without JT", both over that ban and the initial absence through injury. Behind the scenes, his standing remains even as influence on the pitch transfers to a younger generation. Back in Moscow after the conclusion of their Europa League quarter-final against Rubin Kazan, the team had filed through to the departure gate at Sheremetyevo airport in the small hours only to find sponsors and press waiting ahead of them in the queue to board. An awkward pause ensued while airport staff frantically sought clearance to proceed and, when the green light was offered, the chief executive, Ron Gourlay, shouted over to Terry by name with confirmation and the captain led his players on to the flight.
His position in the pecking order remains. He will be frustrated at a lack of involvement, craving the "three games a week" he claims he can still play, and life on the fringes in another enthralling occasion at Anfield might leave him infuriated. But Terry will feel he is not quite done yet.
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