Frank Lampard hopes N'Golo Kante stays at Chelsea for years to come and admits he "would have loved" to play with the French midfield dynamo.
Blues manager Lampard moved to assure Kante he sees him as an integral part of Chelsea's future after reports the club could sell him to raise transfer funds.
A Premier League winner with Leicester City in 2016 and Chelsea a year later, Kante turned 29 in March and will be determined to re-establish himself in Lampard's team in the coming weeks.
He has made just five appearances for Chelsea in 2020 after suffering hamstring and groin injuries, and it appeared at one stage his season might be over.
That was not down to injury, but because Kante was reportedly so concerned by the coronavirus pandemic he was said to be happy to train at home and sit out the rest of the campaign.
Kante has been back within the Chelsea camp in the last fortnight, however, and could face Aston Villa on Sunday, with Lampard saying he is "as fit as anyone in the squad".
Discussing Kante's wariness about coming back, Lampard said: "It was very genuine, he wanted to be clear about how it would work around the training ground. It's been sorted out in the short term and he's training and he's happy.
"Also in terms of N'Golo, I've seen some talk and reports about him and his future at the club.
"I've said before about N'Golo, [he is] one of the best midfield players in the world. I actually would have loved to play with him, the type of player he is. He has everything, and coming back to Chelsea and managing this club, having N'Golo Kante, is something I really wanted to appreciate and work with.
"This season unfortunately it's been tough due to injuries to N'Golo, but it's nice to see him a little bit fresh.
"One of the silver linings I suppose to this has been we've managed to get a few players fit and fresher, for whatever reason. N'Golo is so important to us as a team going forward, we need him regularly and hopefully we'll have that now."
While Kante has three years remaining on his Chelsea contract, both Willian and Pedro are set to leave Stamford Bridge within weeks.
The attacking pair could sign short-term extensions to see them through to the end of the extended Premier League season, given the COVID-19 break has pushed back the end of the campaign to late July.
Alternatively, they could walk away at the end of June when their present terms expire.
Former Chelsea and England star Lampard would trust either player, if he needs them over the remaining weeks of the season, and they could have a part to play at Villa Park.
"I have no worries about motivation. They are both top-class professionals, have been great servants to the club," Lampard said. "Every time they pull on a Chelsea shirt they'll give everything as they have done for years."