After 22 illustrious years John Terry is no longer a Chelsea player, and he finds himself at a crossroads in his life as well as his career.
ESPN FC takes a look at the pros and cons of what he could do next.
Stay in the Premier League
The days when Terry insisted he could never wear the shirt of another English club feel like a long time ago. Frank Lampard set the precedent for modern Chelsea legends playing elsewhere in the Premier League, and his name is still sung at every match by Blues supporters despite spending his final season in England trying to pip them to the title with Manchester City.
Terry’s legacy would be even less affected by seeing out his twilight years with one of the middling Premier League clubs that have expressed an interest in him.
Even at 36 and with injuries becoming more frequent, Terry would have plenty to offer a team of the size of West Brom or Bournemouth. He is only two years removed from playing every minute of a Premier League title-winning campaign, and would bring more elite pedigree than all of his new teammates combined.
But such a move also carries risks. Terry is less mobile than ever and can look every day of his age when left exposed. Any manager who signs him must abandon all thought of playing a high defensive line and have at least one competent midfield destroyer to shield him from quicker and slicker opponents.
Pick the right team and Terry will get the competitive swansong he craves. Pick wrong and he could end his Premier League career in a relegation battle.
Terry is the same age as Lampard was when he sought out new horizons, moving to the United States with New York City FC.
The problem on that front is that as ESPN FC reported in April, no MLS club is interested in offering the former England captain a designated player contract — the only route to the kind of lucrative salary Terry would be looking for.
China is a more appealing destination in terms of finances, and as a free agent, Terry would not be affected by the “100 percent tax” rule that appears to have played a role in ending Tianjin Quanjian’s bid to sign Diego Costa.
Neither, however, offer the level of competition that Terry is used to. Another major European league certainly would, but adjusting to a new country, culture and league would also steepen the challenge that he already would face in proving himself elsewhere in the Premier League in his mid-thirties.
Retire and coach at Chelsea
Undeniably the most romantic option. Terry is already planning a career in coaching, and transitioning straight from the No. 26 shirt to a Cobham tracksuit would allow him to preserve unqualified his image within football as “Mr Chelsea”.
Chelsea’s hierarchy have indicated publicly and privately that a role at the club is there for Terry whenever he wants it, and owner Roman Abramovich is particularly keen to keep the key figures of Chelsea’s golden era firmly within the fold at Stamford Bridge.
Lampard completed several modules of his coaching course at Cobham last season, while Didier Drogba is a regular visitor to Stamford Bridge despite the fact that his attentions are now focused on club ownership with American club the Phoenix Rising, who harbour ambitions to become an MLS expansion franchise.
If Terry were to take up a coaching role at Chelsea, however, it would be with the academy. The Blues remain adamant that there are no plans to directly replace Steve Holland on Conte’s senior backroom team and, in any case, sources have told ESPN FC that the Italian wants staff who are already proven in a coaching capacity elsewhere, rather than first-timers.
Go straight into management
Terry has worked under many of the most renowned managers of the last 20 years at Chelsea and if osmosis were a shortcut to greatness, he would be better placed than most for a fast rise to the top of the coaching scene.
His playing reputation should also ensure that Terry the manager would not be short of offers. Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard was presented with the chance to take charge of MK Dons shortly after announcing his retirement.
Terry has never been short of confidence and would probably back himself to manage Chelsea tomorrow. History suggests, however, that he might be better off finishing his qualifications and picking his first non-playing job carefully.
Leave football completely
What more does Terry have to prove? He leaves Chelsea as a five-time Premier League champion with a total of 15 major trophies to his name, coupled with a legacy as his club’s greatest ever captain and arguably the best defender English football has seen in the last 25 years.
He is also one of the most widely reviled sporting personalities in the world. The string of controversies and scandals throughout his career have left no one indifferent to Terry, and many will take great pleasure if his next career choice proves a failure.
Terry is as thick-skinned as they come, but why give his critics the satisfaction? Having been one of Chelsea’s top earners for the vast majority of the Abramovich era, he should not be in need of money.
Punditry would be a less stressful choice than coaching, but Terry has earned himself the wealth and the freedom to do whatever he wants after retiring — even if that means leaving the sport that made him behind.
Whether he could ever be satisfied with a life outside of the football bubble, however, is another question entirely.
Liam is ESPN FC’s Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.