Even as he showed signs of leadership at the back for the Birmingham club, he was outpaced during a 1-1 draw against Hull City.
Former Chelsea captain John Terry shows frailty in Championship debut for Aston Villa
Captain, leader, debutant. If it does not quite have the same ring to it, there was something incongruous about the sight of John Terry in an Aston Villa shirt, a lower division and a new environment. Nor was it the seamless start that long seemed likely.
Terry and Villa appeared in cruise control, but a man hired to bring a winning mentality drew on his bow. Hull City proved oddly obdurate opponents, shocking at the start but rallying determinedly to take a point. Terry strolled through much of the match, organising a defence in the manner of a man who had been at the club for years, not weeks, but they were breached.
After the hype, the unwanted reality. Terry’s face adorned the cover of the programme, a pop-art style image in claret and blue. Villa had announced his signing with an imaginary WhatsApp conversation. Not something that was possible 6,300 days earlier when Terry, then on loan at Nottingham Forest, previously played a club game for anyone other than Chelsea.
Terry acknowledges disappointing debut
They showed showy gestures were not confined to Chelsea. After the schmaltzy farewell to Stamford Bridge in May, the pre-ordained 26th-minute substitution bringing down the curtain on a 22-year spell that incorporated 717 appearances, came a reminder of competitive football’s capacity for unscripted drama.
A day that ended in anti-climax began respectfully, but not rapturously. The loudest ovation before kick off was reserved for Terry, but it was not deafening. When the Villa fans asked an ageing centre-back to wave to them mid-way through the first half, they were serenading their manager Steve Bruce.
Terry began by showing his strengths, his capacity to communicate, the distribution skills honed in his embryonic years as a midfielder and the ability to position himself to clear any cross. Then came the first hint of a familiar frailty. Fraizer Campbell accelerated away from him to test Sam Johnstone with a stinging shot.
It hinted at Villa’s undoing. Neither of those directly involved in Hull’s equaliser was his responsibility. Kamil Grosicki embarked on a mazy solo run and crossed. The 20-year-old Jarrod Bowen volleyed in his first City goal. But seconds earlier, Terry had retreated rather than challenge the speedy Campbell when the forward ran at him.
Much of the action had been concentrated at the other end. Gabby Agbonlahor’s decline has mirrored Villa’s, from striker who terrorised top-flight defences to forward who mustered a solitary goal in the second tier last season. He equalled that tally inside seven minutes, courtesy of a composed finish and an Alan Hutton cross.
Terry's top five Chelsea moments
Yet this ought to have been a rout. Villa underachieved in only finishing 13th last season and underperformed in only scoring one goal. Agbonlahor, Scott Hogan, Henri Lansbury and the substitute Andre Green had a host of chances. Hull goalkeeper Allan McGregor excelled. Sometimes, however, the finishing was simply wasteful.
As Terry ended his 17-year absence from the Football League, he discovered a division infinitely more cosmopolitan than it was then. Leonid Slutsky is more accustomed to Uefa Champions League than Championship. He won three Russian titles as CSKA Moscow manager and if the opening exchanges suggested the new Hull manager has a steep learning curve, he somehow emerged with a draw.
If Roman Abramovich’s old friend could savour the scoreline, his most successful captain was left to rue it.