Date published: Friday 19th May 2017 2:35
Antonio Conte refused to be drawn on whether Chelsea captain John Terry will make his anticipated final appearance at Stamford Bridge from the start against Sunderland on Sunday.
Terry will lift the 15th major trophy of his career after the Sunderland match, Chelsea’s last game of their Premier League title-winning season.
The defender, who will leave Chelsea after 22 years this summer, started in the league for the first time since September in Monday’s 4-3 win over Watford.
The 36-year-old scored his 67th Chelsea goal on what was his 716th appearance.
Assessing his options for Sunday, Conte said: “John is a champion and he deserves the best.
“It will be a surprise. It’s important to make the best decision and to find the best solution for him, for his career.
“He’s a legend for this club and in this season he has been very important to win this title.
“For this reason I think I have to take my time and to make the best decision for him.”
A further appearance and trophy could potentially follow in the May 27 FA Cup final with Arsenal, when Chelsea will seek a double.
This season’s Premier League title was Terry’s fifth with Chelsea after wins in 2004-05, 2005-06, 2009-10 and 2014-15.
Terry said following the Watford win that retirement was one of the options he is considering, but Conte believes he can play on.
— Michael Ballack (@Ballack) May 19, 2017
Conte added: “John has all the possibilities to continue his career.
“We all know that he is preferring to play regularly and for this reason he has decided to leave. He wants to play regularly, every week.
“I think he has the possibility to do this, because he’s still strong. I think 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, to feel your body, to feel your mind, to feel if you have still desire, still will to fight to arrive every day and work very hard.
“If you feel this, it’s right to continue to play, to continue your career. John has all these characteristics.
Victory for Chelsea over the relegated Black Cats would be a record 30th win in a Premier League season, breaking their own mark from the first two campaigns of Jose Mourinho’s first spell as boss in 2004-05 and 2005-06.
Conte’s future has been the subject of speculation, amid rumours Inter Milan are coveting him.
The 47-year-old maintained his line that his focus is on immediate targets.
Five years ago today…
Champions of Europe! 🏆 https://t.co/UvE4QAeekg
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) May 19, 2017
And he 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.
“First of all it’s important to repeat: I have two years’ contract to go,” Conte added.
“It’s important to underline this. Then I always said for me, for the players it’s very important to finish this season, to be focused, to be concentrated on our target.
“Now we reached a really important target for us, to win the league.
“Now on Sunday we have two targets: to try to win the 30 games in this league. I think it’s an unbelievable target for us.
“Then Thibaut (Courtois) to win the Golden Gloves (award for most clean sheets).
“We have these two targets on Sunday. Also to prepare in the right way for the final of the FA Cup against Arsenal.”
Belgium goalkeeper Courtois has 16 clean sheets, one more than Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris.