Antonio Conte says he understands and respects John Terry’s decision to leave Chelsea but insists the defender will be a “serious loss” to the club.
The Blues and the 36-year-old skipper both announced on Monday that he will leave Stamford Bridge after 22 years when his contract expires in the summer.
Terry has won 14 major trophies since making his debut in 1998 but has struggled for game-time this season, with Conte preferring to go with Cesar Azpilicueta, Gary Cahill and David Luiz in a three at the back, but the Italian says his departure will hurt the team.
“I am not surprised about this [the reaction]. I am repeating that John, for me in this first season, is very important. He is helping me on and off the pitch,” Conte said.
“He is a great captain, the problem is that John wants to play regularly and for this reason we have to respect his decision. I was a footballer and when you arrive at this point of your career, and your body tells you to continue it is right to.
“We have to respect his decision. If you ask me if next season it is a serious loss…yes, I think so. I am seeing what John is doing this season in the changing room. We are building a foundation and he is important to this.”
Chelsea play Tottenham at Wembley in Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final but Conte could be without Cahill after revealing that the defender was treated this week for a small stone in his kidney.
The 31-year-old was admitted to hospital on Tuesday after training and released on Thursday following treatment and tests but the Blues boss says it is “very difficult” for Cahill to be ready for the cup tie.
“He arrived at the training ground with a bit of fever,” Conte said. “Our doctor preferred to bring him to the hospital and to check his condition. Not a serious problem, but now Gary is getting better and is improving a lot.
“If you ask me for tomorrow, my answer is it is very difficult. This period is not a lucky period for us.”
Asked whether Terry could come back into the side to replace Cahill, Conte added: “This is a semi-final and in this season we try to have in every position two options – the player that usually players and another.
“When John plays it is more central, but that is David Luiz. I have to think about the right solution.”