London - Injured Chelsea captain John Terry is proving as valuable an asset off the pitch as he has been on it, says the Premier League leaders' manager Antonio Conte.
The future of the 36-year-old central defender -- whose 18-year association with the club looked like it would come to an end last campaign before he was offered a one-year contract -- was the subject of speculation in Tuesday's media.
However, Conte refused to be drawn on the claims Terry would be let go at the end of the season and eulogised about the role the former England defender was having on the squad.
Chelsea are presently on a nine-game winning streak which has seen them go from also-rans last term to topping the table with a three-point lead over Arsenal ahead of the midweek matches.
"John is our captain and I think he's doing a great job when he played," said Conte.
"Now that he's not playing, he's helping me a lot in the changing room, to send the right message to the players.
"This is fantastic. John loves this club. I think it's important now to be focused on the moment, and not thinking about the future.
"It's better to be focused on the present. I don't like looking a lot forward.
"But John is able to do a different role in football, but now it's important to be focused and continue to think about him playing, because we need him."
Terry, who has not played since West Ham beat Chelsea in the EFL Cup in late October, will still travel to bottom side Sunderland for Wednesday's match because of the positive effect he has on the players.
"I'm pleased a lot to know, also, the man and not only the player," said Conte.
"I think, I repeat, he's a really important player for us. If he plays or if he doesn't play, he remains our captain.
"It's important for him to send out the right message in the changing room, to send the right spirit of this club.
"For me, I hope to have him available to play, but also in this moment it's important to have him in this role.
"He's injured, but he's helping us in these games, in every game...He comes with us, home and away, staying with us, transferring the right message. It's very positive, very positive," added the 47-year-old Italian.