John Terry makes Stamford Bridge farewell with contrived early departure
John Terry's emotional final appearance at Stamford Bridge as a Chelsea player sparked debate over the manner of his orchestrated early exit.
Press Association Sport understands the Premier League is relaxed about the substitution which took place 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.
News of the premeditated move could have alerted gamblers to a situation they might have looked for ways to exploit.
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.
The timing of Terry's departure was significant - he wears the number 26 shirt - but it began when the clock clicked on to 26 minutes, which is the 27th minute, and by the time he left the field it was the 28th minute.
Sunderland boss David Moyes 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.
Terry then embraced his team-mates, who lined up to form a guard of honour, before handing over the captain's armband to his replacement Gary Cahill as head coach Antonio Conte looked towards next Saturday's FA Cup final with Arsenal.
The set-piece substitution rankled with some, with television presenter Piers Morgan tweeting: "Love John Terry as a player but this is ridiculous. You don't stop a game to give guard of honour send-offs."
Former Tottenham forward Garth Crooks told the BBC on a live Match of the Day programme: "This is not Hollywood. This is a Premier League fixture. I'm a little bit bemused. This has obviously been set up. I'm a bit uncomfortable with it."
Chelsea boss Conte afterwards said: "It was very important to find the right solution to celebrate a great champion, a great legend for this club.
"He deserved to start the game and to have a substitution after 26 minutes.
"He deserved this celebration, because he wrote Chelsea's history and I wish for him and for his family the best in the future."
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.
"One of the most difficult days of my life," said Terry, as he paused to watch a highlights reel of his career on the big screen and waited to speak amid choruses of his name and songs sung in his honour.
Terry had led Chelsea through a guard of honour from Sunderland ahead of kick-off, walking out on to the Stamford Bridge playing surface with son Georgie and daughter Summer. The twins celebrated their 11th birthdays last week.
His speech was filled with thanks: for the supporters, the managers and team-mates from his distinguished playing career and Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who he said "cares about this football club, from the under-eights to the first team".
He reserved particular praise for his wife Toni and two children, who were alongside him on the pitch. All four of them were in tears.
Addressing the supporters, Terry said: "Thank you will never, ever be enough, but I'll tell you what: I'll be back here one day.
"I'm going to be supporting the players and the club from the bottom of my heart.
"You've given me everything from the age of 17 when I first started out. You picked me up when I was down, sung my name when I've had bad days and disappointed you as well."
The reception was rousing as Chelsea supporters and Abramovich applauded the talisman as took his leave from the pitch he has known as 'home' for his entire playing career.
The game was 1-1 when Terry was replaced. Terry was the closest in attendance as Javier Manquillo scored after three minutes, but the Blues rallied in an emphatic win.
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.
He made his first league start since September in last Monday's win over Watford, scoring his 67th goal to net in the Premier League for a 17th successive season.
He retained his place in the starting line-up as Conte balanced sentiment with preparations for Wembley, where he will seek to complete the double.
After the Watford win, Terry floated the idea of retiring as he contemplates whether to play on - and where - when he leaves the club he has served since he was 14 years of age.
Terry's family will be a major consideration over what happens next, with Bournemouth, Swansea and West Brom among those interested in signing a player who is likely to have no shortage of lucrative offers from abroad.
News of his future will have to wait for another day as Sunday was about celebrating the past.