John Terry leading Aston Villa's veteran revolution in Championship
BIRMINGHAM -- It will take some time to get used to seeing John Terry in a shirt other than Chelsea's, but he is an Aston Villa player now. In dropping down to a Championship club in severe need of rescuing from itself, the five-time Premier League-winning captain has accepted a very different mission.
Once Antonio Conte made clear that Terry had no further part to play at Stamford Bridge, the 36-year-old, with 18 years as a first-team player behind him, wanted to prove he still had something to offer on the pitch. A one-year contract at Villa will test that, and he begins a new life in the Championship, where he last played while on loan at Nottingham Forest in 2000, with Saturday's home game against Hull City.
"Every ex-player I spoke to over the summer, the first thing they said to me was 'play as long as you can'," Terry said, speaking in the players lounge at Villa Park this week. "There will be a point in your life when your body tells you 'no'. At the minute, touch wood, I'm not at that point. Will that be the case in a year? I'm not too sure."
Naturally, Terry will be wearing the captain's armband at Villa, having received it from James Chester -- one of his defensive partners during a 46-game quest for promotion. Villa cannot afford to be out of the Premier League for much longer. The looming threat of EFL financial fair play (FFP) regulations against a club that declared an £81 million loss for their last financial results have severely reduced manager Steve Bruce's transfer manoeuvres.
"We need to box a little bit clever because of FFP," said Bruce. "I might have to sell somebody I don't want to sell."
Having plunged from the Premier League at the end of the 2015-16, and following Chinese owner Dr Tony Xia's takeover, Villa continued to spend like a Premier League club, lashing out £38m last season, yet went far closer to relegation to League One than promotion, before eventually finishing 13th.
Bruce slowly stopped the rot, having succeeded Roberto Di Matteo in October, and he has turned to veterans on good wages rather than pay high transfer fees like the £15m Middlesbrough handed over for Nottingham Forest striker Britt Assombalonga. When Villa suffer blows like the damaged kidney set to keep young star Jack Grealish out until Christmas, Bruce has little recourse to buy replacements. His squad will have to grind out results this season.
Terry is one of four recruits, each with a wealth of Premier League experience: midfielder Glenn Whelan, signed for £1m from Stoke; defender Chris Samba, a free transfer from Panathinaikos; wing-back/midfielder Ahmed Elmohamady, who cost £1m from Hull -- the third time the Egyptian has signed for Bruce. Elmohamady may be the only arrival under 30, but they will add much-needed backbone to the dressing room.
"We have to be better mentally and tougher, and if we are still as fragile away from home next year, then we will struggle again," said Bruce. "I've got some big characters in there now. You have to have a certain way about you and a certain mentality to succeed and play here."
Terry had offers from Bournemouth, West Brom, Swansea, Birmingham as well as clubs in China and MLS, yet opted for Villa.
"I didn't think that it would be possible," said Bruce. "A lot has been written about it, but it proves where Aston Villa is that we can get him here. My son [Wigan Athletic defender, Alex] played the part of the agent I think, he got whacked on the golf course occasionally. He ran after his ball and teed it up for him."
A 46-game Championship schedule, which usually involves playing twice a week, holds no fears for Terry. "I'll take 46," he said. "I'm normally playing 60-65. Everyone keeps raising that point but for the last 18 years I've played 60-65 games.
"I've been late in competitions and everything else. You're always at the back end of the season playing a lot of games. That doesn't worry me at all. Steve is going to look after me at certain points with recovery days and everything else. But I'm sure it won't be a problem."
And though his family home currently remains in Surrey, close to Chelsea's Cobham training complex, Terry is committed to the Midlands.
"I've done 10 days in the last couple of weeks where I've stayed up," he said. "If I do get an opportunity to go down, I've been shooting down. The journey's not too bad. But physically, I need to be here. The professionalism, even though I'm stepping down, remains the same with me. Being in a hotel two days before a game is a given."
Terry pinpointed a dedication hardly in full view last season at Villa, where Bruce had a very public dispute with £12m striker Ross McCormack, currently on open sale over his "continually missing training" which included one no-show that was blamed on a faulty electric gate.
The four incoming seasoned campaigners are at Villa Park to help transform a club that has embraced farce and disaster for far too long. Terry might be dropping down a division but Aston Villa is by no means an easy option.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.