I take this three ways.
1. John is totally coming back and Phil's been told to act like it's never going to happen. Phil is fairly good at pretending to be an honest, upstanding guy, so he's the perfect man to be the frontman for Matthew and Ashley's dastardly plan! There's going to be rug-pulling, dammit, and expecting Simm will just ruin it ALL!
2. They're letting us down gently --- and also saying a giant fuck you to those of us (*cough* like me *cough*) who said it will be anti-climactic if the show revolves around Sam and then doesn't feature him. Which I still think, by the by, because Ashes to Ashes is not a boy-band, and they never replaced Robbie.
3. Phil and John have had a fight because John finally watched the show closely and admitted that he thought it was incredibly crap ("yes, even series two, Philip") and Phil's pissed. "We don't need the likes of you anyway, Simm-fucking-sational. You may think the sun shines out of your arse, but have you noticed how Take That are soaring and no one gives a fuck about Robbie anymore? Yes, I'm going to use a boyband analogy. As little tossbags would say --- suck on it!"
Hahahaha. It's probably version number two, which is a shame, because I have been hoping for a while now that they'd do the sensible thing and finish 'the arc' with Sam in some way. Honestly all I was hoping for was a two minute cameo, but hi-de-ho.