John Terry will certainly “one day” return to Stamford Bridge as the manager of Chelsea Football Club. Between now and then, though, he has to choose a route that will lead him back home and prepare him for a lengthy stay.
Far be it from me to ever dispute my colleague Kevin Peacock on a matter of Chelsea history, but he greatly sheared a timeline in his nearby article. Kevin wrote that John Terry’s path to the manager post at Stamford Bridge started under Antonio Conte, when Conte kept Terry at the club to play a reduced number of minutes while transitioning his captaincy into a managerial apprenticeship.
As a matter of winding down his playing career while moving towards the touchline, Kevin is correct in noting that season. But Terry’s preparation to be a manager started when Jose Mourinho first arrived at the club.
After a few training sessions, I went and got a notepad and started jotting stuff down. Things he said in team meetings, things he said before a game, or to the press. Sometimes I’d come in after a training session and write down everything we’d just done. – The Coaches’ Voice
Everything else in Kevin’s article is indisputable, even for someone looking to nitpick. Terry’s turn at Chelsea manager is a matter of when, not if. But that “when” depends both on Frank Lampard’s tenure and Terry’s preparation for the moment. While there could hardly be a more emotional and symbolic transfer of power than Lampard to Terry, that should not be the goal. Terry should only succeed Lampard if the timing is right for both players and the club itself.
No one other than a few quarter-wits on Twitter want to see Frank Lampard leave any time soon, so Terry has a wonderful opportunity ahead of him, one that Lampard did not have.
Terry will not want to be Aston Villa’s assistant manager for long. Aston Villa supposedly doesn’t want him there for long, either – they want him to be the manager now. The shutdown could be the only thing keeping Dean Smith and Terry in their respective jobs.
If Villa decide to stay with Bruce or hire a more experienced manager to replace him ahead of net season, Terry should not just look for the open jobs but the ones that will give him the widest range of experience and knowledge that he can bring back to Chelsea.
One option would be to coach at the academy or development team level, preferably with the Blues. Many ex-players short circuit this normal step in coaches’ progression, and many ex-players do not do so well in their first few years of coaching. Sometimes, those years are enough to send them to the pundits’ booth.
Pep Guardiola, someone as strongly associated with his club and assured of a coaching role as Terry, coached Barcelona B for a year before taking over the first team.
Ajax’s Erik ten Hag was an assistant manager for several years at PSV Eindhoven and FC Twente. His first job as manager was in Netherlands’ second division with Go Ahead Eagles. After a year there he went to Bayern Munich II, their reserve team, for two years before returning to the Netherlands, this time in the Eredivisie with FC Utrecht and then Ajax.
Julian Nagelsmann is another prominent manager, albeit one who was not a player, who ascended the age groups at Hoffenheim before becoming first team manager, and from there went to RB Leipzig. The youth to reserves to first team progression is very common throughout Germany.
The Italian model is another option. Antonio Conte’s first two manager jobs were in Serie B. He then made the move to Serie A at Atalanta, who sacked him midway through his first season. He went back to Serie B for his third club before Juventus brought him home and he won three consecutive scudetti.
If Terry stays with Aston Villa, he will almost certainly have the chance to make his managerial debut in the second division. He could also put himself in contention for any number of jobs that will surely come open in the Championship or even League One. Given that he has at least a few years before he will take over at Stamford Bridge, he can set himself the goal of leading a team through promotion campaigns, a la Eddie Howe, or on a steady march up one league’s table, like Bristol City’s Lee Johnson is doing.
The last option could be the rarest one for an English manager: go overseas. Graham Potter is the only English manager who comes to mind who spent a prolonged part of his managerial career outside of England. In his case, it was his first seven years in management, all at Ostersunds in Sweden. He returned to England last season to lead Swansea City, and this season is at Brighton & Hove Albion.
Alan Pardew is the other recognizable English manager currently on the continent, obviously very late in his career. ADO Den Haag hired him on December 24, presumably for his record as a relegation zone escape artist. The team were in 17th place when Pardew arrived, and with the exception of one week in 16th, nothing has changed for them.
Terry could reignite the “Chelsea B” relationship with Vitesse. Or he could aim for a Bundesliga or – like ten Hag – Bundesliga II side. This would bring him to learn the intricacies of another footballing culture as well as the managerial challenges of a non-English team. Layering a non-English tactical culture on top of everything he knows from his playing career is the sort of rich combination that could bring freshness and innovation to Chelsea when he arrives.
A unique confluence of events resulted in Frank Lampard taking over at Chelsea when he did. No aspiring manager should aim to emulate his path, not even one who is all but guaranteed the same job.
Lampard had a unique opportunity to take over Chelsea when he did, and John Terry has a unique opportunity to expand his range before he takes over at Chelsea. He should find the most enriching road, for his own fulfillment and for Chelsea’s future.