Terry has point to prove after City flirt

LONDON: John Terry is not the kind of man to become suffused by self-doubt, but even Chelsea's cast-iron captain might feel the odd anxious twinge when he leads his team out at Stamford Bridge for this season's curtain-raiser against Hull.

Ordinarily, nobody is guaranteed a more vociferous reception in west London than Terry, the man with blue blood coursing through the veins.

But after a close-season when he has engaged in a very public and pointed dalliance with Manchester City, he might wonder if his standing has slipped among the fans who once idolised him.

Terry has maintained that he never countenanced a move to Eastlands and that the delay in issuing a public statement flatly rejecting City's interest was simply down to logistics

Terry's interest in City - and their rumoured 250,000-pounds-a-week salary offer - was an open secret for weeks and his refusal to be press-ganged into a quick denial was significant for two reasons

First, it represented an open challenge to the Chelsea hierarchy to prove their ambition could match that of City's oil-rich owners, most obviously in the case of attracting marquee signings.

Second, and just as importantly, it was a sharp reminder that nobody is more pivotal to the Chelsea project than Terry - the leader of the dressing room and one of the few players who can genuinely claim to have the ear of the owner, Roman Abramovich.

It is why the Blues are likely to respond to Terry's flirtation with another club - an act which would simply not be tolerated by any other player - by offering him an improved contract worth around 150,000-pounds-a-week, making him the Chelsea's highest earner along with Frank Lampard.

On the face of it, the wisdom of Chelsea rubber-stamping that kind of deal for a player approaching 30 - the high-water mark in most players' careers - could be questioned.

There has been a creeping sense of time catching up with the England captain for months now, a point underlined by his performances last season, which were at times alarmingly shaky.

His pace on the turn, while never explosive, has now almost completely deserted him and he appeared to struggle without the reassuring presence of Ricardo Carvalho alongside him, as the Portuguese spent most of the campaign on the sidelines through injury.

Yet the proposed new contract is recognition of Terry's standing as a totem rather than a player, a tacit admission by Chelsea that this is one man they simply cannot do without if they are serious about clawing back the status they enjoyed under Jose Mourinho.

Terry offers Chelsea presence and stature, qualities which many better defenders, such as Carvalho, cannot boast.

So any nervous flutterings he might feel in the players' tunnel moments before kick-off on August 15 are surely unjustified. In the fans' eyes, he will always be Mr Chelsea.