Antonio Conte insisted John Terry would stay with Chelsea this season as the head coach hailed the homecoming of one of the captain’s possible defensive successors.
Terry was this week linked with a move to Bournemouth, on loan until the end of the season, after Nathan Ake was recalled from the Cherries by Chelsea.
Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe on Friday morning said no negotiations over Terry had taken place and Conte was adamant the 36-year-old defender, suspended for Saturday’s trip to Premier League champions Leicester, was going nowhere.
“John is an important player for me, if he plays or he doesn’t play,” Conte said.
“This squad needs him. He’s a great player, but also a great man and for me it’s fantastic to have a person like him to help me in my first season at Chelsea.
“For this reason, I repeat, John stays with us, is our player, is in my squad. And when I see the situation and I want and he deserves to play, he’ll play.”
Terry is potentially in the final months of his career-long association with Chelsea, for whom he has made more than 700 appearances since making his debut more than 18 years ago.
The Cherries speculation arose after Holland age-group international Ake returned this week to contest for a first-team place at Stamford Bridge.
Conte was quiet on transfer speculation, but believes the return of Ake, who can play in central defence, the left side, in midfield or left wing-back, is like having a new signing.
“We ‘bought’ Ake,” Conte added.
“His situation makes me more calm, also in the market, in January.
“When you have a player who can play different roles, it’s good for me.
“The first impressions are a lot of positives. This player has a good personality, he’s mature to stay with us.
“It’s not a gift. I don’t like to gift someone. He deserves to come back to Chelsea.”
Barclays Premier League Manager of the Month:
December ✅ pic.twitter.com/Ev0Ql0QoxA
— Chelsea FC (@ChelseaFC) January 13, 2017
Charly Musonda and Kenedy are also training with the first-team squad, with Conte assessing whether they are ready to play for him or should go on loan for the second half of the season.
Chelsea resume Premier League duty after Tottenham ended their 13-game winning run and the Blues responded with a FA Cup third-round win over Peterborough.
Conte’s side are five points clear at the top of the table entering this weekend’s fixtures, while Leicester are 15th, six points clear of the relegation zone.
It is a role reversal from last season when Chelsea were holders and perilously close to the drop zone before Conte’s summer arrival prompted a transformation.
Asked about the Foxes’ struggles, Conte said: “I’m not surprised because this league is very tough.
“For sure I consider Leicester a really good team, with good players. A good mix. They have a great manager.
“But it can happen, this, in this league. Don’t forget, Chelsea last season.”
Conte, the Premier League’s manager of the month for December, his third award in a row, added: “I think (the) Leicester game is very important. It’s important for us to restart, to restart to win.”
Leicester’s Claudio Ranieri has also received an award recently, named coach of the year by FIFA after his side’s remarkable title triumph.
The Italians spoke prior to Chelsea’s EFL Cup win at Leicester in September and Conte says Ranieri’s input has been valuable in his first season in England.
“His experience here is very important for me,” Conte said.
“If you have another opinion, above all if this person is someone you respect a lot, it’s important. This type of chat helped me a lot.”