When you look at the numbers, they are not quite as impressive as we might imagine them to be. After Sunday’s FA Cup win over Peterborough, Nathaniel Chalobah, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, and Ola Aina have played a combined 677 minutes. Branislav Ivanović by himself has 90 minutes more than that. Spread out over 19 appearances (7 starts — 2 each for Chalobah and Aina, three for RLC, all in the cups), it’s perhaps the how and the when (especially in Chalobah’s case) that’s created an aura of great excitement over Conte and the youth.
“It is positive. The hard work of the academy is still going on and so to have a manager who lets the young ones have a run-out here and there is good for the academy and the young players who are getting chosen.”
“He treats us like any of the other players in the team. We do feel part of the first-team; we don’t feel like the young ones anymore.”
-Ola Aina; source: Independent
It’s all relative of course. We had endless discussion about Mourinho and his use of the youth, and then had even more discussions as he built up Loftus-Cheek as the chosen one of the next generation, and yet, as Garry Hayes points out, the 670+ minutes that the trio have played already exceeds the minutes given to youngsters in season 2013-14 and 2014-15, combined. And that’s despite the lack of European games leading to the shortest fixture list in some two decades. Conte has not exactly tied his fate to the kids — he’s not one to do that — but he’s also not been afraid to use Chalobah, for example, in important situations.
“The manager has faith in us and he’s giving us the chance. […] We’re definitely part of this team. The manager has given us the respect and responsibility to follow his philosophy.”
“We’ve just gone 13 games unbeaten, so it’s hard to get into the side,” he said. “We have experienced players ahead of us so every week in training we just watch and learn from them. They have the experience that I don’t have [but the manager is giving me a chance].”
-Nathaniel Chalobah; source: Independent
Chalobah and Loftus-Cheek joined Chelsea as U8s, Aina signed on at the U11 level. They (and many others who are out on loan these days) have come up and grown up together in the system and even if it’s not (yet?) a regular occurrence, it’s great to see them playing together for the first-team in actual meaningful games.
“It’s always great when I’m playing with my brothers because we’ve seen each other grow through the academy. It’s always exciting at Chelsea. As long as Conte’s here and under his regime it’ll always be exciting.”
-Ola Aina; source: Independent
Aina’s contract had actually expired last summer before he was convinced to continue on — his faith in Conte repaid and vice versa. And he’s not the only one to have no lost faith and been rewarded for it.
"[Conte] always helps me in training and playing different positions is only going to help my knowledge of the game. I’m getting my development in training with him."
-Ruben Loftus-Cheek; Source: Chelsea FC
Such praise may become a bit more hollow should RLC or others head out on loan for the second half of the season, though Nathan Aké’s recall from loan could balance that out.
The foundations and the necessary talent-level for the youth to progress into the first-team has been there for a few years now, but Chelsea under Conte, perhaps a bit surprisingly, seem to be trending in the right direction. It’s not quite a youth revolution just yet, but the situation is more promising than any time before in the Roman Era.
"It’s unbelievable just to walk out and hear the noise from the crowd. I used to watch games at Stamford Bridge and now to walk out of the tunnel with the team is a great feeling."
"I’ve known Ola [Aina] and Ruben [Loftus-Cheek] for a long time so to see them on the pitch, and to play with them, is a great achievement not only for us but for the people who work so hard in the Academy, the people who are trying to push the young players through."
-Nathaniel Chalobah; Source: Chelsea FC