After making his first Chelsea matchday squad as a 15-year-old, young midfielder Nathaniel Chalobah spent four of the next six years on loan at six different clubs. He kickstarted his professional career in an impressive loan stint at Watford, then a Championship club, which he helped reach third place and an upset loss in extra time to Crystal Palace in the promotion playoff finals.
His next loan spells weren't quite as successful though, as Chalobah wasn't able to (or given the chance to) reproduce his scintillating form at any of Nottingham Forest, Reading, Burnley, Middlesbrough, or Napoli. Of Chalobah’s 106 total appearances during his four seasons in Chelsea's Loan Army, 42 came during that first loan year at Watford.
But despite his struggles to get proper playing time, Chalobah still managed to earn a spot with the Chelsea first-team this season, getting rewarded for an excellent pre-season and, presumably, effort in training. Chalobah (and Victor Moses, too!) could finally be proving that Chelsea’s use of the loan system could in fact be successful.
"I think all the players who are out on loan should have that belief anyway. They are good players if they are going out on loan and getting experience somewhere else. It is still experience."
"In terms of me getting a chance now, it is right place, right time but you have always got to keep the mentality the same and always try and work to improve yourself."
"Right place, right time, right manager and you never know what might happen. Just don't give up and keep going. And if it doesn't work at Chelsea, it will maybe work somewhere else. But you have to keep striving for the best."
After several substitute appearances, Chalobah got his first ever start as a Chelsea player in our last game against West Ham in the League Cup's Round of 16. A lacklustre collective performance by the players, with the 21-year-old prospect also having some troubles of his own, as he failed to cope with the much more experienced opposing midfield duo of Pedro Obiang and Mark Noble, got the Blues eliminated from the competition on a 2-1 loss.
Despite the occasional mistakes, Chalobah gave a good individual performance overall, once that surely earned him a few more opportunities. But he is aware of the difficulties that come with playing in a squad filled with good players, especially now that there will be fewer games on the schedule. He will of course keep on working hard, just as he has before, to earn his chances.
"It shows I get my chance. I think people sometimes forget that Chelsea is a very big club and they have got world-class players at the club and for young players coming through."
"It is always going to be difficult, it is never going to be easy. But it is down to the coaching staff to see how well we do in training and down to the player, how much believe they have in themselves to keep pushing every day."
As of right now, Chalobah seems to be Antonio Conte's primary back-up to our first-choice central midfield pairing of N'Golo Kanté and Nemanja Matic.
Playing or not playing, the youngster’s using the circumstances of his situation to learn from our established midfielders during training sessions, whilst taking on all the advice he can from the coaching staff.
"Right now there is no better example than the two midfielders who are starting every week - the likes of N'Golo Kanté and Nemanja Matic. You look at them every single week in training and you learn from them."
"Cesc Fàbregas and Oscar are other world-class players who have won World Cups and massive tournaments. I have got the opportunity to train with them every single day and every day I am learning from them."
"I am learning from manager and staff so I can't really complain. They have all taken me under their wing and given me advice. The manager gives me advice a lot. And watching them benefits me a lot."
-Nathaniel Chalobah; Source: The Sun
Following years of complaints and criticisms over Chelsea’s youth and loan policy, it is certainly sweet to see someone like Chalobah getting and taking his chances with the first-team. He has a real chance of setting a new tone for the Chelsea system; hopefully he won't turn out to be just another positive blip in a long flat line of disappointments.