LONDON (AFP) – Interim Chelsea manager Rafael Benitez revealed on Friday that captain John Terry may not make his return from a knee injury until the Club World Cup in Japan in mid-December.
Terry has been out for nearly three weeks after straining ligaments in his right knee in the 1-1 draw with Liverpool, but he is close to making a comeback after returning to training.
However, Benitez does not think he is ready to play in either Saturday’s league game at West Ham United or the crucial Champions League clash at home to Danish club FC Nordsjaelland on Wednesday.
Chelsea then travel to Sunderland in the Premier League, but when asked if Terry could go to Japan without having played, Benitez said: “Yeah, it could be.
“It’s a question of confidence. When you forget you have that problem in your knee is when you are ready.”
He added: “He’s pushing — ‘I want to be there, I want to be involved’ — but still he will need some time.
“It’s a knee, not just a muscle. You have to see the reaction when you turn. You cannot put him in a position where he could get injured again.”
Terry has played fewer than one and a half games of football since the start of October, due to a combination of his four-game ban for racially abusing Queens Park Rangers’ Anton Ferdinand last season and his knee injury.
Despite his absence, Benitez says the former England captain’s approach has been exemplary.
“Early this morning, he was in front of me walking onto the (training) pitch and he didn’t know I was following him,” said Benitez, who has overseen goalless draws against Manchester City and Fulham since replacing Roberto Di Matteo.
“Three young players were coming along and the way he approached them was quite positive.”
Frank Lampard, who has been out for over a month with a calf injury, could also make his return at the Club World Cup.
Chelsea will play their first game in the tournament of continental champions on December 13 in a semi-final against either South Korean side Ulsan Hyundai or Monterrey of Mexico.
Terry and Lampard were both unavailable during the alarming slump in form that led to Di Matteo’s dismissal and Benitez admitted that their absences may have played a part.
“You have to analyse what has been happening in the last month, but you can see these players with this character and leadership can be helpful when things are wrong,” he said.
Benitez should be spared the booing that accompanied his first two games at Stamford Bridge when Chelsea visit West Ham on Saturday, but he may not receive a friendly reception from the home dug-out.
The Spaniard clashed with West Ham manager Sam Allardyce several times during his tenure as Liverpool coach and was particularly critical of Blackburn Rovers’ rugged playing style under Allardyce.
“As a manager, you have to defend your club and try to do things in the right way,” Benitez said.
“We were talking about what we thought that we could see, the way things could be done in a different way.
“But it’s not just the manager. It’s the style, sometimes, or the way that things were going on. I’ll do the same (again) if I have to.”
Benitez also denied claims he had used a dismissive hand gesture in a game between Liverpool and Allardyce’s Blackburn after his side scored an early goal.
“How could I have said the game was over after 20 minutes? It would be crazy,” he said. “I’d never say the game was over at that stage.”