Diego Forlan: Among different styles of defenders, Chelsea’s John Terry is timeless

Diego Forlan addresses the kind of defenders he would come up against in his time in the game, with a particular fondness for the straightforward competitiveness of John Terry.

John Terry has made 462 league appearances for Chelsea since 1998. Nigel Roddis / Getty Images
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I’m often asked about the best defenders I’ve played against in my career. There have been many, but a few stand out above the rest.

The Italian Fabio Cannavaro, who was with Real Madrid when I played against him several times, was the best player in the world in 2006. He wasn’t tall, but very quick and strong. He always knew his opponents well, as if he’d researched them. When the ball came from the side, he was always touching and pushing me. He didn’t give me space to start running. He wasn’t dirty, he didn’t kick, he just wouldn’t let you run freely, he interrupted my flow for 90 minutes. Not many players managed it, but he suffocated my style in a fair way. I suppose that must have made him a great.

Two English defenders were among the finest I played against, John Terry and Rio Ferdinand. I knew Rio from my time at Old Trafford and playing against him in training every day. He was the best young English defender when he signed from Leeds United against whom I’d taken him on several times. He was fast, strong, great with the ball and had excellent anticipation. He was very hard to play against. When he walked in the United dressing room we saw him as someone who could help us win the league back from Arsenal – which we did.

Maybe someone with Rio’s height should have scored more goals, but while it’s hard to say that everyone in the England team is world class, but Ferdinand and Terry were It’s hard to say that everyone in the England team is world class, but Ferdinand and Terry were. And they played together in the same team. I think they could have played in any national side in the world.

They were tall and strong and fast, key attributes for a defender in England. Cannavaro wasn't tall and maybe the Premier League wouldn't have suited his style so he compensated in other ways. He was really fit, for example.

One of the surprises of this season so far has been Chelsea. I said at the start of the season that I thought they'd win the Premier League, but they've had a terrible start. That has surprised but so has

Terry, 34, being dropped for recent Chelsea games. He’s a Chelsea icon, their most successful ever player from their most successful ever period. It’s tough for him right now and maybe something has gone on that we don’t know about, but he has the quality to get back in the team. His experience could also be vital if Chelsea are going to retain the title.

Terry reads the game very well; he has an instinct about what is going to happen next. He’s an intelligent footballer who has won everything for his club over a number of years. It is a fact that Terry has been a world-class performer.

I played him for club and country and they were tough battles. He’s not the type to give you abuse. There are some defenders who like to distract you by talking to you. They’ll say things about your mother, about your family. They’ll tug and push you. It’s part of their game. After scoring some of the best goals of my career, I’ve been told that I’m lucky or that I didn’t mean to do what I’d just done. I say nothing, but you know they must be really angry if they’re getting mad with you; you know you must be doing something right. There are other players who try and distract you during games and are completely normal and pleasant after – like they’re a different person off the pitch. That’s not always a bad thing.

Some strikers are the same and I respect that they play football their way. It’s their personality and I love the different personalities and styles on a football pitch, it’s one reason it’s such a fascinating game.

Football has changed and so has the relationship between the players on the pitch. Where once some players would try everything to distract opponents, now it’s harder. There are TV cameras everywhere which have much higher quality images than before. There are lip readers in studios working out what you are saying to each other. That’s why you see so many talking covering their mouths. If you’re caught saying something that you shouldn’t then you’re all over social media, you get sanctioned and damage your image. Fifa have really pushed Fair Play too and that has made the games cleaner. Referees are also stricter and more consistent as the authorities look for more uniformity. When I started playing, there were great differences in pitches. Now, at the highest level in Europe at least, they’re all very similar. When I see some of the pitches which my father played on, I think that it must have been a different game.

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