A defence should be as unbreachable as a fortress. And to build these fortresses, you need rocks. Massive rocks that can weather any storm and bear any pounding. If one looks back at the Premier League era, only a handful of names stand out as those rocks. But then, a specific marquee pair stands out from the rest as well. The now incompatible pair of Rio Ferdinand and John Terry, that is.
In recent years, off-the-field issues have marred the relationship between Terry and the Ferdinand family and have damaged it beyond any seemingly possible repair. But what it doesn’t affect is the impact both have had at their present clubs for the past decade or so. Be it leading from the front or filling holes at the back, this pair has done it all. They spent majority of their prime years marshalling the English defense. Now that both have retired from International Duties, England suddenly feel they have a porous defense. Cahill, Lescott, Jagielka, Smalling and the others, however good, just do not match up to Terry and Ferdinand in their heydays.
Who are they :
Rio Ferdinand, a member of the prestigious West Ham academy, made his Premier League debut aged 17. Soon, Leeds United came calling with a GBP 18M bid, both a British record transfer and the World Record fee for a defender at that time. Two brilliant seasons with Leeds, the first culminating in a CL Semifinal, and a World Cup later, Sir Alex Ferguson had seen enough of Ferdinand to bring him to Old Trafford for over GBP 30M – making him once again the most expensive British footballer, and snatching back the title of World’s most expensive defender from Lilian Thuram. He has been destroying attacks for United since then. He’s also exceptional with the ball, making him England’s premier ball-playing defender.
John Terry, however, has been a one-club man, and our beloved captain. Despite also training with West Ham as a youngster, the Barking born defender signed for Chelsea at the age of 14 after playing for famous boys club Senrab, along with the likes of Bobby Zamora and Ledley King. During his early years around the Chelsea first team squad, he saw his chances limited due to Marcel Desailly and Frank Le Boeuf, and subsequently found himself at Nottingham Forest on a short term loan to get first team experience under David Platt. Despite making his Chelsea debut in the 1998-99 season, Terry didn’t become a first team regular until the 2000-01 season, playing 22 league games as Chelsea finished in 6th place. The following season, Terry further cemented his place as a first team regular, playing in 33 of the 38 league games, as Chelsea once again finished in 6th place. Seen as a typical British defender, Terry made a reputation for putting his body on the line for the cause, but it his ability to pass the ball was often overlooked as a result. An example of John putting his body on the line would be his fish-like nosedive for England pictured below.
The stats that matter the most while talking about a defender’s efficacy and impact on games are the number of clean sheets and the number of goals conceded. Let’s see if these numbers help us compare these two legends. (The stats are of the Premier League, unless stated otherwise).
CLEAN SHEETS (CS):
Both these players have been consistently racking up a large number of appearances and subsequently, as a measure of their quality, clean sheets at nearly a one in two rate. Ferdinand’s appearances have been slightly limited due to injury and an eight month ban for forgetfulness causing him to miss a drugs test. Over the ten years, Ferdinand has made an average of 27 league appearances per season, and in that time, has kept an average of 12.9 clean sheets per season. In total, he’s kept a clean sheet for every 2.085 games. John Terry’s 311 appearances work out at an average of 31 games per season, with a clean sheet rate of 15.9. So on the face of it, Terry is ahead, with a clean sheet every 1.955 game
Terry’s highest number of CS per season is 25, coinciding with the title-winning 2005-06 season, dwarfing Ferdinand’s 19 in the 2007-08 title winning season. For what it’s worth, Terry has kept 20 or more clean sheets three times ! But comparison’s aside, the mere fact that these two have been racking up a clean sheet every two games over a 10 year period is nothing short of staggering.
However, more of Ferdinand’s clean sheets have come against sides finishing in the Top-6 than Terry (27/129 vs. 31/159). John Terry’s clean sheet rate of one every 1.955 games becomes a clean sheet every 2.61 games, compared to Ferdinand’s clean sheet every 2.44 games. What that roughly meant was that, Terry is more likely to keep clean sheets overall, but Ferdinand did it more against the best in the league.
Also, another notable trend is that, despite aging, Ferdinand’s clean sheets are shaping up more or less the same way as is expected from an aging player, while Terry’s have been going down steeply. Reasons for that could be the absence of Ricardo Carvalho and Makelele, off-field issues or an unnaturally fast decline.
One might note that Terry kept majority of his clean sheets from 2003-04 to 2007-08, the same time Claude Makelele was playing as the holding midfielder for Chelsea, guarding the defence. During that time, John Terry kept 91 of his 159 clean sheets, keeping 68 in the five seasons without him. Being one of the best holding midfield players ever, and the famous Bentley engine Real Madrid so foolishly lost, Maka was a different animal. Same could be said about Carvalho. What was laughable in Riccy’s play was that he could commit fouls in a nonchalant manner, raise his arms innocently and get away with it. But what is unmistakable was his ability. Deceptive pace, astute interceptions and on-the-ball excellence of Riccy surely helped John Terry rake those Clean Sheet numbers up.
GOALS CONCEDED (GC) :
Goals Conceded is the second best way to rate a defender after the number of clean sheets. Many times teams get sloppy after going goals up and end up conceding a goal. That ruins their clean sheet numbers, but along with their clean sheet numbers, if we factor in the number of goals conceded, the measure would be several touches better. So here we go !
Over the 295 Premier League games for United in the last 11 years, he’s let in on average 0.75 goals per game – comfortably under the much desired 1 per game target. His best season remains the 2007-08 title win, the one in which he let in a paltry 21 goals in 35 games – 0.6 goals per game. The season before, he played 8 games versus the Top 6 teams, and only let in 4 goals, whilst in 2010-11, the other top teams managed to make the net bulge twice during his 6 games against them. In total, he conceded 70 goals in 66 appearances against the best teams in the league – a number damaged by the 6-1 drubbing at the hands of Manchester City.
(PS-Just look at Mancini’s face)
Chelsea’s Che Capitano, Terry, let in 83 goals in 81 appearances against fellow Top 6 teams at a rate of 1.024 goals per game, just ahead of Ferdinand’s rate of 1.061. His best season against the Top 6 was in 2004-05 when just four strikes got past him and his team mates in 9 appearances. His overall goals conceded rate is 0.72 per game – almost identical to his non-handshaking partner’s 0.75. Looking at the table above, his best season turns out to be, as expected, the phenomenal 2004-05 when just 13 goals were conceded on Terry’s watch – a phenomenal 0.36 goals per game. No wonder they won the league so comfortably.
This is one stat which doesn’t make any sense for defenders, but upon a look, it shows only one clear winner. Yes, that clear winner is Mr. Captain, Leader, Legend. Terry had scored 47 goals in 11 years while Ferdinand had reached 8 goals in the same period at a snail’s pace. This past season, Ferdinand had scored a goal more than Messi’s PL goal tally whereas Terry had 3 more than Rio. Messi who?
BIG GAMES :
Including only domestic cup finals, Ferdinand has played five in total, three in the League Cup and two FA Cup Finals, whereas Terry has featured in seven cup finals, three in the League Cup and an impressive four FA Cup Finals. In his five Finals, Ferdinand has helped his team to a clean sheet in three games whereas Terry has helped Chelsea to two clean sheets in his seven finals. So effectively, Ferdinand has provided more in these big games than Terry has.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE :
The competition where men are separated from the boys. These two non-handshaking pals have been standout performers in this League of Champions. Always available for the team when they’re needed. Both have been a part of two CL Finals, both winning one and losing one. Terry shall largely be haunted for his slip which cost Chelsea the CL title and won United theirs in the infamous penalty shootout. The very next year, however, United were trounced by Barcelona in the Final. On May 19th, 2012, a date Chelsea fans shall never forget, Chelsea patiently withstood a German goal invasion in Germany to clinch their first Champions League crown. Sadly, Terry was suspended for that game.
As in the Premier League, Terry leads the way with the overall number of clean sheets – posting 39 against Ferdinand’s 36, however, when you take into account the number of games, then Ferdinand has the fewer number of games per clean sheet at 1.94 from 70 appearances compared to Terry’s clean sheets every 2.23 games from his 87 appearances.
Adhering to the trend from the Premier League stats, Ferdinand is shown to be more likely to keep a clean sheet in the bigger games. Terry has kept a clean sheet for every 1.7 group games in the Champions League, but just one every 3.42 in the knock out stages. Ferdinand on the other hand is pretty consistent – averaging a clean sheet every two games regardless of the stage.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Taking into consideration all their stats, performances and impact on team, it’s too close to call whether Rio is better or Terry is. Both are supremely brilliant, with Terry belonging to the ‘English’ school of burly defending whereas Ferdinand is more of a modern defender with better on the ball skills. However, Terry posses a major goal-scoring threat, which Ferdinand lacks. Also worth noting is the fact that Terry performs consistently irrespective of the magnitude of the game, whereas Ferdinand has that little bit extra to offer in crunch situations and big games.
So winner of this Terry vs. Ferdinand duel is…. no one. I shall play it safe and sensible, and ignoring my Chelsea bias and Rio-hate, I’ll call it a DRAW. Whatever one’s thoughts may be, it is undeniable that both these men, and born leaders, who have been the heart of England’s and their clubs’ defences, are one of a kind. Their skillsets complemented each other perfectly and led to the generally incompatible England teams having some sort of cohesivity and therefore punch above their weight. Sadly, off-field and personal issues engulfed their relationship.