The time was always going to come when Chelsea would have to replace John Terry. Their captain, their leader, the Blues legend. At 36 years old, and with the Premier League, getting faster every season, that inevitable moment could be coming sooner, rather than later.
That leaves just one question; Who is going to replace the former England international?
Many international names have been mentioned as Chelsea transfer targets: Virgil van Dijk, Antonio Rudiger, Kostas Manolas, and Raphael Varane…to name a few.
However, there is something right about Chelsea finding a British centre-back to carry on the legacy that Terry has created, but it must be the right fit.
Michael Keane from Burnley has impressed as he's stepped up to the pressure of the Premier League, but Antonio Conte seems to have his sights set on Middlesbrough defender, Ben Gibson.
The 23-year-old is a left centre-back who is a product of the Boro youth system. He is also the son of the club’s president, Steve Gibson.
“[He’s] from the academy, from the city, someone who knows everything here,” said current Boro boss, Aitor Karanka, when asked about Gibson’s future. “He is a good example for the academy players and I would like to keep him here all his career.”
“But football is football.”
The Spanish boss is right: loyalty, the kind shown by John Terry, is rare in 2017. The age of one-club-men has gone. The Barking-born boy has played over 670 games for the West London club.
Gibson, who made his league debut in 2011, playing 49 minutes in a 2-1 win over Coventry City, has played over 130 games for his hometown club.
Chelsea may have loved to bring someone through like Terry, but similar to another legend, Frank Lampard, Gibson could move soon and still have a long and successful career at Stamford Bridge.
From Youth Player to Chelsea Legend
Lampard played 157 games with West Ham United before joining Chelsea and the midfielder would go on to pass Bobby Tambling as Chelsea’s all-time leading goal-scorer.
But is the Middlesbrough centre-back worthy of being included with those names? Honestly, it’s difficult to say. He’s definitely worth a mention.
It’s one thing to play for a club like Boro. They do have a progressive coach, who isn’t playing the typical English football that can be a trait of a newly promoted side. Yet, they have to defend a lot more than anyone at Chelsea does.
They will see less of the ball and the chance of making mistakes is much higher. At Chelsea, the pressure is different, the slightest mistake and you are all over the back pages and your title/Champions League chances are blown away.
Against Leicester City, although a drab, turgid affair, he showed how he can defend well against pace, despite not being the fastest himself.
You can see thus from the graphic below, where he is up against Ahmed Musa. The Nigerian knows he has the pace to beat his marker, but so does Gibson. He holds off, keeps his ground and as soon as the Leicester forward makes his move, Gibson steps in, using his strength to stop the attack.
Playing against Manchester United at Old Trafford, he showed that he can win those physical battles against the bigger, more dangerous opponents.
The Boro defence is well organised: and as Bernardo covers at the near post, Gibson comes across to track Zlatan Ibrahimovic. A daunting task. However, he matches up well against the Swede, stands his ground and gets in front to clear the danger.
Impressive Ben Gibson
For context, Bournemouth’s Steve Cook leads the Premier League in clearances made per game (9.8). Bernardo leads Boro with 14, but he’s played just once. Calum Chambers averages eight and Gibson 6.1.
What is most impressive is the amount of tackles he makes for a centre-back at a club of Boro’s standing. He averages just one per game. That’s superb and better than Laurent Koscielny, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones and David Luiz.
He’s not perfect, there is still space to grow. Against Leicester and Manchester United, apart from those two great examples, there were moments when he jumped in, or was out of position.
Yet, in true John Terry style, he has the speed of thought and ability to recover and make a last-ditch tackle.
Under Conte, that would improve massively and with his left foot, he could have a massive future in the Italian’s 3-4-3, or even adjust to the more natural back four.
“The main thing for him if he wants to grow and he wants to improve is to forget everything, to know that if he is not playing well, the following day he will go to the bench or to the stand,” Karanka explained about Gibson’s future recently.
“That's the only way to improve, playing every day 100 per cent. When one player, especially one defender, is playing well, it's because the team from a defensive point of view is doing really well, but not just this season, for the last three seasons.
“He has a lot of potential. Top teams are speaking about him, the national team is speaking about him.”
The Spanish boss wants him to forget about the transfer speculation and concentrate on his team’s upcoming games.
Boro are 16th in the Premier League, just four points above Sunderland in the relegation zone. They need Gibson’s aerial ability, his strength and his leadership.
Gibson is contracted until 2021 after signing a new deal in 2016, improving on his £2,500 a week wage. However, no matter what the North-East side are paying, the Blues could treble it without a problem.
Whenever John Terry does hang up his boots and step-aside, Chelsea could really do with it too.