Chelsea's defensive crisis took a dramatic turn for the worse last night when it emerged that John Terry has undergone an operation on his back that will rule the club captain out of action for three months, according to the same leading sports injury surgeon who examined Wayne Rooney's broken metatarsal during the World Cup finals.
The news is also shattering for Steve McClaren, who now faces the prospect of his England team travelling to Israel for their crucial Euro 2008 qualifier on 24 March without their inspirational captain. The surgery to remove what a Chelsea statement described as a "sequestrated lumbar intervertebral disc" took place in France yesterday and has left, their manager, Jose Mourinho facing months without his captain.
While Chelsea have claimed that Terry should be back in a matter of weeks, Professor Angus Wallace, the country's leading expert in sports injuries and the man the Football Association flew to Germany to examine Rooney last summer, said it would be closer to three months. Wallace, who is professor of orthopaedic surgery at the Queen's Medical Centre in Nottingham, told The Independent that Terry had suffered, in layman's terms "a major slipped disc".
It means that Mourinho will now expect the Chelsea chief executive, Peter Kenyon, to pay whatever Manchester City ask for the 18-year-old Micah Richards, whom he sees as the ideal short-term replacement for Terry. While Mourinho has long admired the teenager, who played right-back on his England debut last month, he now sees him playing as a converted centre-half in Terry's absence.
Wallace, a former chairman of the National Sports Medicine Institute, said that Terry had suffered a common problem in which the soft inside of the disc had been pushed out the back of the disc and "into the spinal canal". He said that Terry would have had a "minor invasive operation" through either keyhole procedures or a small cut.
"If they have removed the whole sequestrated portion of the disc he is likely to make a full recovery," the professor said.
"Most people don't get back inside three months from a sequestrated disc. You would be talking in Terry's case about right at the end of the season. He shouldn't have to wear a brace, he will be mobilised."