Chelsea turned down loan offers from Leicester City, Sevilla and Napoli for Nathaniel Chalobah last month, after Antonio Conte intervened to keep the 21-year-old at the club.
Chalobah, who scored for England Under-21s on Tuesday night, is yet to make his first-team debut for Chelsea, and has made six loan moves in the last four years. Most of Chalobah’s cohort are out on loan this season too, but new manager Conte was impressed with Chalobah in pre-season and decided that he should be part of the first-team group this year.
Napoli were keen to extend Chalobah’s stay in Italy, after he spent last season on loan at the Stadio San Paolo, and were interested in another loan or a permanent deal. Two other Champions League clubs, Sevilla and Leicester, were keen on the young midfielder and had enquiries turned down by Chelsea. So did more teams from the Premier League and Championship, including West Bromwich Albion and Sunderland.
Chalobah has taken real encouragement from the show of faith in him by Conte, after four years of loans. He has always wanted to be the first academy player since John Terry to become a first-team regular at Chelsea, and had aimed to break the mould of recent years. But it has been a frustrating time for Chalobah since signing a five-year deal in 2013. He has been repeatedly loaned out without making the same impression he did in his brilliant first season at Watford in the Championship in 2012-13.
Although Chalobah was not a regular at Napoli last season, he learned Italian and enjoyed the tactical sessions of coach Maurizio Sarri, training with elite players. That learning experience stood him in good stead with Conte, who arrived as Chelsea manager in July. Conte was impressed with Chalobah’s work in his fitness and tactical sessions, as well as his performances in pre-season.
That is why Conte decided to keep the 21-year-old midfielder, putting him on the bench for games against Watford and Bristol Rovers already this season. Conte expressed his frustration after the Bristol Rovers game that he was not able to bring Chalobah on. While Chalobah wants to play as much as any 21-year-old, he still hopes to do so at Chelsea, in this, the first season he has had a real chance.
Chalobah played at the base of midfield in Gareth Southgate’s England under-21 team on Tuesday night, converting James Ward-Prowse’s free-kick for the second of England’s six goals. For Chelsea he could play that same holding role, currently occupied by Ngolo Kante, or the more box-to-box role alongside him in Conte’s midfield.