Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has insisted age is not a barrier to the first team at Stamford Bridge. The 47-year-old Italian fielded a number of the club's academy graduates in their 3-0 thumping of Leicester City on Saturday (15 October) – and Conte is willing to give more opportunities to young players.
In recent years, the Blues have been lambasted for failing to promote their exciting young players, despite winning three consecutive FA Youth Cups. However, the likes of Nathaniel Chalobah, Ola Aina and Ruben Loftus-Cheek all featured off the substitutes' bench in Chelsea's one-sided win at the weekend.
"People who know me will know I don't gift a place to anyone," the Chelsea manager said, according to ESPN. "Only those who deserve to play will play for me. It is important for Chalobah and Aina to understand this.
"When I have called Chalobah he has always answered me in a positive way. If they are ready I will put them in. In the future they can play from the start. Age is not important. I made my first appearance in Serie A at only 16."
Chalobah, 21, has had six different loan spells away from Stamford Bridge since 2012. However the England under-21 midfielder has claimed those experiences have helped to make him a better player.
"I've had a lot of loans – some that were good and some that were bad – but out of all the loans I've had, I've tried to learn as much as I could from them and I think that's helping me now," he told Chelsea's official website.
"If you're a youngster at Chelsea you always have to believe you are good enough, however many loans you have, because you never know what might happen. If you work hard, keep believing and at the right time you're in the right place, you get your chance."
Chalobah agreed Conte is open to giving first-team opportunities to Chelsea's best young players. "I think the manager is trying to give all the young players and academy graduates an opportunity," he explained. "At the minute everybody at the club is working together and doing the best we can."