For those who have been closely following Chelsea over the last few days, you already know that John Terry has announced that he will not be retiring at Stamford Bridge. The Blues failed to offer him a new contract and the Englishman is not ready to hang up his boots just yet.

Therefore, unless Chelsea reconsider their position, the squad will move forward without their captain and their manager next campaign. Hiddink is supposed to be in charge for an interim basis, while the board searches for a long term replacement.

What makes Terry’s announcement all the more perplexing is that Chelsea are choosing to move forward without two integral parts of their leadership. I don’t think many Blues’ fans would blame the board for looking elsewhere for a new head coach. However, I do think that most of the fanbase will be scratching their heads if the leadership at Stamford Bridge chooses to let Terry walk.

One of the largest talking points this season has been who will take over the reigns from Guus Hiddink at the end of the summer. This is an important debate and should be pursued aggressively. However, Terry’s announcement will give wind to a new debate, one that will start here. Who will replace the Englishman as captain next season?

The captain has exemplified what most clubs dream of. Begin with a club at a young age, stay with them throughout their career, become a club hero, represent their country at the highest of competitions, and at some point, retire a legend. While that last bit no longer seems to be on Terry’s terms, Chelsea will at some point have to plan for life without Terry on the pitch.

While he used to be one of the best centre backs in the world, it’s his leadership that will make the toughest challenge to replicate. So while many people focus on the managerial vacancy, I’d like to look at potential players that could take the captain’s armband from the Englishman once he retires.

Assuming that a new coach will appoint a player already on the squad, we will limit the search to incumbent players. It would have to be a player with a significant role in the squad, and one that doesn’t seem set for greener pastures any time soon. Therefore, my shortlist is as follows: Willian, Eden Hazard, Cesc Fabregas, and Azpilicueta.

Notable exclusions are Costa, who doesn’t seem to have all the qualities a manager would desire in a captain, though I personally am a fan of his leadership abilities. Oscar, who’s consistency level keeps him out of the side too often. Pedro, who hasn’t done much of anything in West London. Courtois and Zouma are too young to hold that position, though have the potential to do so in the future. Matic and Cahill’s future look uncertain, as Chelsea haven’t played Cahill much this season, and Matic has struggled for form. While Matic will most likely remain, Cahill seems to be yearning for playing time and if not guaranteed a starting role for next season, he could look elsewhere. Finally, Ivanovic is excluded because although he deputised as captain, the Serbian is on the wrong side of 30 and is barely guaranteed to be in the mix for one more season. That inconsistency isn’t a good quality in a captain.

Willian would do a good job as Chelsea captain. His workrate is exemplary. His performances have outshone his teammates this campaign, making him one of the top performers in the league. At one point, it felt as though he was pulling Chelsea up by their bootstraps and carrying them through the season. He may be the only reason Chelsea find themselves in the knockout rounds of the Champions League. Chelsea could do a lot worse than Willian as captain.

Eden Hazard would make an interesting captain at Stamford Bridge. The largest problem with the Belgian would be his long-term loyalties to West London. That being said, this may be one way to ensure that his trust and thinking stays at Chelsea. Hazard did an emphatic thing the other day when he scored his first club goal this campaign. After scoring, he kissed the Chelsea patch on the front of his shirt. That is a show of respect for his club and for sticking by him during his rough patch.

When asked about Hazard’s future at Chelsea, Guus Hiddink explained that he could leave, but that if he stayed, he’d be a Chelsea legend. That could be what’s on the table for Hazard. He could stay, become great, be the person that Chelsea build around, and perhaps, grow into the best player in the world. All at Stamford Bridge. Imagine if handing him the armband helped to convince him to spurn Real Madrid and PSG. Hazard would be the leader in West London for years to come.

Cesc Fabregas represents the next leader in the squad that Chelsea may promote. The Spaniard is finding his form in recent matches and is beginning to look his best yet again. At 28, he’s on the right side of 30, and could lead Chelsea for the next 5 years minimum. I am sure that he will remain an important member of the squad for years to come.

The biggest question remains his loyalty, similar to Hazard, as the two were chosen as scapegoats for Mourinho’s sacking. Many believe they were behind the decision to remove the Portuguese manager of his post, and this may make fans weary of his motives. It would also certainly be the nail in the coffin on his relationship with Arsenal fans.

However, Fabregas would be an ideal candidate because of the way he can determine matches. At his best, he plays with a swagger that can determine the outcome of the game. He’s the puppetmaster, pulling strings for Chelsea and creating chances in the attacking third. Take that leadership and add the armband, and Chelsea may be looking at the next great captain at Stamford Bridge.

Finally, the last strong option for the role is Cesar Azpilicueta. Dave, while a fan favourite, is also highly regarded amongst his peers at Chelsea. He is one of the world’s best left backs, playing on the wrong side of the pitch. He has eliminated the need for Ashley Cole, Filipe Luis, Ryan Bertrand, and Baba Rahman at Stamford Bridge. He has a profound work ethic and strong leadership qualities.

So how would Dave be as a captain? The attitude that Azpilicueta displays on the pitch is one that every player should have. The Spaniard truly works tirelessly every game for his side, and is always in the right position, battling for his team.

Furthermore, in attack the 25-year-old tends to sit back, rather than join in. This allows him to see the field and communicate effectively with his teammates. Azpilicueta has also benefitted from playing alongside Terry for the last few seasons. It has allowed him to grow and develop into one of Chelsea’s most consistent performers, picking up several leadership qualities along the way.

Over the next few months we must begin to prepare ourselves for life after Terry. While Chelsea may still change their mind, it is a future decision that must be made.

Above, we have considered several quality candidates for the position. If I had to choose, I would select Azpilicueta. He seems the most naturally ready, the most relied upon, and overall the best choice for the job. That being said, Chelsea could do a lot worse than Willian, Hazard and Fabregas.

While it’ll be interesting to see who fills Hiddink’s shoes at the end of the season, it may even be more intriguing to see who takes the armband from Chelsea’s “Captain. Leader. Legend.”

Tyler Strauss is a senior writer at CFCnet. Follow him on Twitter.