- Villa move a 'marriage made in heaven'
- Blues derby 'most intense I've experienced'
- Aston Villa stay confirmed if promoted
- Jack Grealish can be “England great”
- Play-Off determination strong in camp
It's been just over 10 months since Aston Villa made one of the most illustrious signings in its history. The one no one believed could ever happen.
A Premier League-winning captain drops a division to join a promotion project after 22 years with his boyhood club in which he won 17 major trophies and skippered his country. Surely not?
It's a move that still beggars belief in some quarters. 'I still can't believe he actually plays for us'. 'I still smile when I wake up and remember we've got him'. 'I love how much he cares'. Those just a few of the glowing tributes still issued by supporters upon a brief scour of the man’s name on social media.
'I didn't believe it until I saw it. I was star-struck when I saw him at the training ground'. The sentiments of Jack Grealish, who's already played alongside and encountered some big names in his short career to date.
The player in question, of course, is John Terry. Captain. Leader. And yes, very much a Villan.
Huge club. Huge stadium. Massive fanbase. Ambitions that matched mine. It was a marriage made in heaven.
Terry on Villa move
To begin, we go back to the very start. Not signing day, but the fateful afternoon he bumped into Steve Bruce on a Portuguese beach and later shared a round of golf, where a huge coup was made by the gaffer.
"I made my mind up on that golf course with the manager in Portugal. That was the moment I knew I was coming to Aston Villa," Terry recalled.
"I still came to the training ground and had a look around the stadium afterwards, just to see the surroundings. As soon as I did, I thought: 'yeah, this is for me'. Huge club. Huge stadium. Massive fanbase. And, most importantly, ambitions that matched mine – getting promoted. It was a marriage made in heaven, really.
"The manager was great with me throughout that time, to be honest. All summer I had other clubs badgering me, other managers ringing and trying to put pressure on me. I saw him on the beach quite a few days in Portugal and we had general football chats, as well as conversations about what the future holds for myself.
"But he didn't put any pressure on. He told me to switch off, enjoy the break with the family and not to answer the phone to anybody. Even when we played golf, he'd wait until 15 or 16 holes in before he asked me what I was doing next in football.
"We had half a lager shandy afterwards and it soon became clear that we were on the same page. The more detail we went into, the more realistic the move became. The rest is history."
It's signing day. Monday 3rd July 2017. The parody WhatsApp group chat with Dr Tony Xia, Steve Bruce, James Chester, Jack Grealish and, all too briefly, Martin Laursen and Olof Mellberg, has been launched to announce the news of the skipper’s arrival. The world digests one of the signings of the summer window.
Terry enters the Recon Training Complex and Villa Park for the first time as a contracted player with a new crest adorning his attire. The lion of Chelsea is no more. The lion of Aston Villa takes pride of place on his chest.
"It was little steps really," he said. "You go through the signing, the training and then your first game, and you just want it all to go well.
"When I left Chelsea, it was about drawing the line under my time there. It was incredible. I could and never would want to hide the fact I had so many great years there. It's a top football club and I won many trophies.
"Holding the Villa shirt and walking into a new environment felt different, of course. I've always been the one welcoming new players in. But you soon settle in and focus on the football.
"What was important for me is I never wanted it to be seen as a move simply because I was coming towards the end of my career, and that people thought 'it's just another year of getting paid for him'. That's never been me as a character or me as a footballer. I'd like to think the fans have seen that in my performances this year.
"I was 36 when I signed and couldn't have people thinking: 'he's done now, he's just winding down'. I stayed really fit over the summer, even before I knew who my next club was going to be. I put myself in the best possible position to come in and give it a real go.
"Here we are 10 months on. I'd say it's gone fairly quickly, other than the period of time I spent out injured. But I've really enjoyed it and we've still got a few games to try and achieve our aim."
Whether it's been his iconic fist pumps in front of our away support after a significant victory on the road, travelling across the country to games with the squad while unable to play or running up and down the Holte End staircases in a bid to return to full fitness ahead of schedule – JT has left nothing out there.
One can testify to that. He's the first to arrive at training, and the last to leave. He cares, a lot, and already has an eternal place for Villa in his heart.
When asked if he's been surprised himself at how much he has taken to a new club, his response left little room for doubt. The Villa faithful can take credit for playing a huge part in that.
"I'm not surprised, no," he insisted. "I always knew the day I signed that I was here to give 100 per cent. Whether I'm playing or not playing, I'll always give my all for this football club. I promised it on day one and that's me as a character and a person. Very much like Robert Snodgrass, whether it's table tennis, head tennis or pool, I want to win. I'd like to think everyone else feels the same.
"I really have loved every minute. I hope we can get this club back in the Premier League where I, and everybody else, knows it belongs. One day I want to look back and be very proud of the fact we went up. That was my aspiration and the manager's hope when we spoke in the summer. I'd like to look back at it as a job well done in the future.
"The fans have been a key part of me taking to this club. My first hope here was that they would cheer me when I arrived. Because I've been here with Chelsea a number of times over the years and it's been extremely hostile. There's a big banner in the Holte End referring to the crowd as the 12th man, and it's massively true.
"I used to make Villa shoot towards the Holte End first. I knew the momentum they gained shooting that way in the second half. I tried to stop that early on and make them change ends, even back at Chelsea. So it's been a real pleasure to come and play in front of them all, and the atmospheres have gained momentum as the season has gone on. It's been a massive advantage for us.
"The Blues game, for example, was huge. The surprise for me was locally how much it meant to everyone. I've been involved in derbies, but probably none as intense as that to be honest. In the week of the game I had people stopping me in the street saying: 'look, this means everything to us. Please make sure you're all up for this'.
"There was no better feeling that beating them, either. It was a really good team performance. Everyone was at it. The fans were superb and there was nothing better than celebrating in front of them afterwards."
To the burning question on everyone's lips, then.
Such is the extent to which Terry has fallen in love with the place, he doesn't want this to end any time soon. And if targets are achieved in the coming weeks, he WILL be an Aston Villa player next season.
"I hope this isn't the end," the defender confirmed. "If we go up, I'm staying. And hopefully I can play for a few more years in the Premier League.
"It's only fair that if we go up, which is the belief within the group, that I stick around. It's in my contract when I hit a certain number of matches.
"I've thoroughly enjoyed it here and love the way I've been accepted. I had to perform to get the approval of the fans and the group, and it was a big call by the manager, too, to sign someone at 36 years of age and coming to the end of their career.
"The job isn't done yet. We've got a few more games to go. But hopefully I am here next season."
The captain is generous with his time. A planned 10-minute maximum interview before training soon turns into more than 20 minutes of discussion – given the endless topics that require his unique insight and opinion.
Three men in particular spring up in conversation for different reasons: Snodgrass, James Chester and Grealish. A friend for life, his centre-back partner and the future. Terry is full of praise for each one of them.
"He's been superb since he's been here," he says of Snodgrass. "He's been a great acquisition by the manager and someone I've enjoyed observing. He's a winner and hates losing. Whether that's a training ground match or a game of head tennis – he gets the hump if he doesn't win. Especially when I beat him! I love that about him. He's a top professional and a really good player. Snoddy's been a top signing and is a great character.
"As for Chezzy, he's been superb and is my player of the season. It's been a real pleasure getting to know him. He's like a Rolls Royce when you play alongside him – he never really gets out of third gear. But he's always in the right place at the right time. He's got great feet, is good in the air and has scored goals as well this year.
"He's a great professional off the pitch as well. He trains well, eats well; he's the all-round package and it's been a pleasure to play alongside him. I've learned a lot from him."
On Grealish, JT has little doubts he can one day take this club to heights that earn him international recognition.
"Jack has everything for me. He's a Villa boy through and through. He loves the club and you can see that through his performances.
"Having the older players in and around him to show him the way, whether that be doing extras after training, gym, recovery and not leaving until 4pm in the afternoon, has really helped him this season, too.
"His ability is second to none. If he continues the way he's going, he can be an England great for sure."
Terry, an England great himself, of course, now hopes to find himself back at the venue that gave him so many career highlights with club and country – Wembley Stadium. For if promotion is to be achieved, it'll now have to be under the iconic arch.
Admittedly there were times the 37-year-old could never see himself gracing the game's most historic pitch again. But if the last 12 months have taught him anything, it's that you never quite know what the future holds.
Terry knows Middlesbrough will be a tough proposition over two legs in the semi-final, managed by the immensely experienced Tony Pulis.
If Boro are seen off, Wembley would be next.
"Ideally you want to go up as champions or automatically," he concluded. "That was our aim. But by all accounts, the Play-Offs is the best way to make it. That's the way we're going to have to do it, so let's go for it.
"We've got enough experience in this group, mixed with some great youth. We'll prepare ourselves right, and like I said, I've heard many times it's the best way to do it.
"There's been times I thought I'd never play at Wembley again. But I've got a good track record there and it's been good to me with both Chelsea and England. I'd love to say it's been good to me with Aston Villa as well."