Chelsea boss Antonio Conte lauds departing John Terry for putting team first
Antonio Conte lauded John Terry for putting Chelsea ahead of himself as the captain prepares for his final appearance at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea head coach Conte refused to be drawn on whether Terry would play from the start for the Premier League champions in Sunday's clash with relegated Sunderland.
The 36-year-old defender, who will leave Chelsea after 22 years this summer, will lift the 15th major trophy of his career after the match.
Terry made his first Premier League start since September and fifth of the season in Monday's 4-3 win over Watford, scoring his 67th Chelsea goal on his 716th appearance.
Despite being less influential on the field, Conte says Terry has been integral off it.
"When you are at the end of your career, it's not easy to put yourself to one side and to think first about your team. He did this," Conte said.
"For this reason, he's a great man before a great player.
"I saw every day a captain, a captain on and off the pitch. His thought was always first for the team, and then for him.
"He's a legend for this club and in this season he has been very important to win this title."
Conte must on Sunday balance sentiment with targets. Chelsea are seeking a record 30th win of the season, while the Blues must also prepare for the May 27 FA Cup final with Arsenal.
"It will be a surprise," added Conte, when asked if Terry will start.
"I have to take my time and to make the best decision for him."
Terry will lift the Premier League title for a fifth time. A 16th major trophy could follow at Wembley, where Chelsea are seeking a double in Conte's first season in charge.
There has been conjecture over Conte's future, with Inter Milan coveting the former Juventus and Italy boss.
Conte declined to say if he would be sitting down with the Chelsea hierarchy to discuss extending the three-year contract he signed on joining last summer.
The 47-year-old maintained his line that his focus is on immediate targets – but he did say the plan is for his wife Elisabetta and daughter Vittoria to join him in London this summer.
"Next season our intention is to keep all the family in England and to stay together," he added.
Terry's departure will see a continual presence move on, but Conte has overseen the departure of a talisman before at Juventus, when Alessandro Del Piero left after 19 years in May 2012.
Terry said following the Watford win that retirement was one of the options he is considering, but Conte believes he can play on.
Conte added: "He's still strong. In the moment I called him to play he showed this.
"When you arrive at this point of your career it's very important to feel yourself... if you still have desire.
"If you feel this, it's right to continue to play, to continue your career. John has all these characteristics."
When he does decide to quit, Conte believes Terry could be a successful manager. The former England captain is undertaking his coaching qualifications.
"If you ask me if he has the characteristics to be a good manager in the future, then yes," Conte said.
When Terry last lifted the Premier League trophy, after a season-ending win over Sunderland in May 2015, he became only the second outfield player to play every minute in a Premier League season and win the title, after Manchester United's Gary Pallister in 1992-93. Cesar Azpilicueta can emulate them.
Conte recognises retaining the title will be a challenge, particularly when juggling the Champions League once more.
Like their rivals, Chelsea are expected to spend this summer.
But Conte was reluctant to address further matters next term, such as who Terry's replacement will be as captain. Gary Cahill has been the on-field skipper for most of this season.
"To start to think of the next season is very dangerous," Conte said.
Victory over the relegated Black Cats would see Chelsea break their own record from the first two campaigns of Jose Mourinho's first spell as boss, in 2004-05 and 2005-06.
Conte added: "We have the possibility to write our name in history with this achievement: 30 wins.
"It won't be easy in the future to repeat this achievement, if we are able to do this."