John Terry’s Stamford Bridge exit was mired in controversy and debate after the Chelsea captain’s premeditated departure.
Press Association Sport understands the Premier League is relaxed about Terry’s orchestrated substitution midway through the first half of the champions’ 5-1 win over Sunderland, despite it being forecast on social media by the Chelsea fanzine editor before kick-off.
Terry revealed after the match that the idea to come off in the 26th minute had come from him, to tie in with his squad number of 26. The substitution process began when the clock ticked on to 26 minutes, which is the 27th minute of the match, and by the time he left the field through a guard of honour formed by his team-mates it was the 28th minute.
Sunderland boss David Moyes said he had received advance notice of Chelsea’s plans, and his goalkeeper Jordan Pickford obligingly kicked the ball out under direction from Blues striker Diego Costa.
News of the plan could have alerted gamblers to a situation they might have looked for ways to exploit. Football Association rules regarding match-fixing state that: “Fixing is arranging in advance the result or conduct of a match of competition, or any event within a match or competition.”
However, there is no suggestion the move was anything other than an attempt by Chelsea to give their long-serving captain a farewell to remember in front of the club’s fans.
Terry then embraced his team-mates before handing over the captain’s armband to his replacement Gary Cahill as head coach Antonio Conte looked towards Saturday’s FA Cup final with Arsenal.
Former Tottenham forward Garth Crooks told the BBC on a live Match of the Day programme: “This isn’t Hollywood. This is a Premier League fixture. This has obviously been set up. I’m a bit uncomfortable with it.”
Conte afterwards said: “It was very important to find the right solution to celebrate a great champion, a great legend for this club.”
Terry received a rousing reception as the champions came from behind to win.
The 36-year-old former England captain appeared for the Blues for the 717th time, starting in the Premier League for the sixth time this season. It was his 580th game as captain of the team.
Terry, for the fifth time, and Cahill lifted the Premier League trophy afterwards before Terry addressed the supporters in a speech filled with thanks.
Addressing the supporters, Terry said: “I’ll be back here one day.”
Sunderland were also the opponents when Terry lifted the Premier League trophy two years ago, after he played every minute of all 38 games that season.
Terry has been more peripheral this time around, contributing to his announcement last month that he would be leaving Chelsea after 22 years and 15 major trophies.
A 16th trophy could follow at Wembley, where he could yet make a 718th appearance, although he is likely to be a substitute at best.
Conte warned of the “danger” ahead in Chelsea’s quest for the double in his first season as head coach.
The Italian says Arsenal are favourites at Wembley after they missed out on Champions League qualification, failing to finish in the top four for the first time in manager Arsene Wenger’s near 21-year tenure.
“This is the real danger for us, to think that this season is finished,” Conte said.
“This is a great opportunity to win and to do the double.
“(But) if you ask me who is the favourite now, I can tell (you) it’s Arsenal.
“We must have our antenna very high and prepare in the right way.
“I’m not talking about tactical game, I’m talking about motivation, right fire in ourselves, in our soul, in our heart.
“If we have this in the same proportion as Arsenal, or more, we have the possibility to do the double. Otherwise we risk a lot.”
Willian cancelled out Javier Manquillo’s third-minute opener before goals from Eden Hazard, Pedro and a late double from Michy Batshuayi secured a comprehensive win.
Moyes conceded the gap between the champions and the Premier League’s bottom club was always going to be difficult to overcome.
The Scot expressed relief that the season was over, but declined to answer directly if he was committed to the Black Cats.
“I’m gutted we’ve been relegated, really disappointed the way the season’s gone,” he said.