LONDON • The end of an era was heralded at Chelsea on Monday as John Terry announced that he will depart after this season to pursue one final challenge before retirement.
The former England captain will attract offers from several Premier League clubs as well as interest from Major League Soccer, the Chinese Super League and the Middle East, having accepted that his time at Stamford Bridge is up. Stoke, West Brom and Bournemouth made approaches during the January transfer window, and they are expected to try again in the summer.
Terry, who made his Chelsea debut in 1998, has long harboured an ambition to coach and manage Chelsea, and is studying for his Uefa coaching qualifications. It has been made clear to him over recent months, though, that an immediate move on to Antonio Conte's staff, at first-team level, is not an option.
In the longer term, Chelsea hope that Terry will return to the club, whether as coach or ambassador.
Conte and Terry agreed that it would be wrong to extend the defender's contract as his playing opportunities will likely be even more restricted next season.
40 John Terry has scored more goals than any other defender in the Premier League's history.
14 Major honours Terry won with Chelsea, including one Champions League title, one Europa League title, four Premier League titles, five FA Cups and three League Cups.
713 Number of Chelsea appearances.
Even with Conte using a system with three central defenders, Terry has been behind David Luiz, Gary Cahill, Cesar Azpilicueta and Kurt Zouma. Next season Conte intends to bring back defender Andreas Christensen after two seasons on loan at Borussia Monchengladbach.
Terry has made only five league appearances this season - enough to earn a medal if Chelsea finish as champions - but his contribution to their golden era under Roman Abramovich is unquestioned.
In a statement, the club expressed "enormous gratitude" for the player's "two decades of dedicated and exceptional service" and echoed the words of the banner that hangs at Stamford Bridge - "Captain, leader, legend".
The 36-year-old has been a divisive figure within English football, the result of two unpleasant episodes that both led to him being stripped of the national team captaincy in 2010 and 2012. But he will go down as one of the greatest players in Chelsea history and arguably the best defender of the Premier League era.
"After 22 years, there is so much to say and so many people to thank at this great football club," Terry said in a statement.
"From coaches, team-mates and staff to the fans, who have given me so much support down the years, I can't thank you enough...
"I feel I still have plenty to offer on the pitch but understand that opportunities here at Chelsea will be limited for me. I'm eager to carry on playing and so will be looking to continue with a new challenge. I will of course always be a Blue and am desperate to end my final season as a Chelsea player with more silverware."
THE TIMES, LONDON