Despite having one of the largest youth systems in the country, Chelsea aren’t exactly renowned for blooding young players throughout the Premier League season – usually sending them away to enjoy first-team football elsewhere.
Nathaniel Chalobah is all too familiar with such a scenario – the Blues had shipped him out on loan no fewer than six times until Antonio Conte arrived at Stamford Bridge last summer, when the Italian saw something in the 22-year-old that caught his eye.
The Sierra Leone-born player has been one of the brightest prospects to grace Chelsea’s academy in recent years, since he joined the club from Fulham at the age of 10.
And Chalobah, who made his senior debut last season six years after being named on the bench for a League Cup tie by then-manager Carlo Ancelotti, wants to repay Conte’s loyalty.
“He showed faith in me in pre-season and he liked the way I was working,” the midfielder said.
“That was a confidence boost. He made a decision to keep me. The way I see it is that I’m in a better position than I was last year.
“I have worked with plenty managers and last year for me, being in and around the first-team, training with them every single day was always going to be a positive because you are training with the best players in the world.”
Chalobah ticks almost every box. He has the ability to intercept and break up play; he is powerful and athletic; yet technical and aggressive – qualities that have seen him hold down his place in the England youth set-up year on year.
His England junior career has been remarkable: he made his under-16s debut aged 13; his under-17s debut aged 14 and his under-21s debut in 2012, aged 17. Now he hopes to make the final step up to the seniors.
Extensive loan spells might have galvanised the promising midfielder, but the mature Chalobah knows the challenge he faces if he wants to cement a first-team place – something that could become a reality this season, having now tasted first-team football as a Blue.
“We won the league and I have got competition ahead of me in Kante, Fabregas and Matic and we’re talking European Cup winners, World Cup winners and full internationals,” he said.
“These are players that you can learn from every single day in terms of what they do on the pitch and the way they are off the pitch.”