Chelsea’s transfer activity, or perhaps more fittingly, lack of incoming transfer activity has coincided with a similarly quiet period for the Premier League’s top six. Nevertheless, while some have grown increasingly frustrated at the lack of reinforcements, Conte’s decision to avoid needlessly delving into the mysterious depths of the transfer market may represent a far bigger change: a willingness to entrust our younger talents with first-team opportunities.
Antonio Conte will not be confused for a youth-above-all-else type of coach, but he has shown willingness to utilise the likes of Nathaniel Chalobah, Ruben Loftus-Cheek and, to a lesser extent, Ola Aina, all the while maintaining an impressive title charge to the top of the table. Chalobah especially has reaped the benefits of Conte’s open mind with an impressive pre-season and substitute appearances throughout the campaign, while Loftus-Cheek has reminded everyone in recent weeks why he has been one of the most promising players in the academy for the past several years.
With Conte confirming that Chalobah and Loftus-Cheek will be staying with the squad the rest of the season (Aina may be loaned out), the Chelsea head coach has the opportunity to expand his cadre of youngsters with the additions of Kenedy and Charly Musonda. While they’re not nearly as “True Blue” as the aforementioned trio who have been at the club since before they were teenagers, Musonda and Kenedy are budding young stars who were acquired for their future potential rather than current ability.
The pair’s seasons have progressed in identical fashion so far: failed loan moves at their respective clubs — Real Betis for Musonda, Watford for Kenedy — leading to much disappointment for all involved. Their talents remain undeniable however.
Kenedy looked to build on a promising first season at Stamford Bridge with his move to Watford. While Mourinho favoured the Brazilian and consequently deployed him in various positions up and down the left flank, interim manager Guus Hiddink only did so when no other options were available. Watford were thus seen as an ideal destination for Kenedy to continue developing at the start of this season, but after just one 15-minute appearance, the loan was cut short.
Since returning to Chelsea, Kenedy has adroitly fulfilled the duty of making up numbers in training and being Diego Costa’s best friend. (Half-)jokes aside, the 20-year-old’s versatility, pace, power, and overall skill could represent a good opportunity for Conte to add to Chelsea’s squad depth. Kenedy has operated operated at striker, winger and wing-back already in his brief career — the latter option could be especially intriguing given Chelsea’s need for cover behind Marcos Alonso.
Similarly, Charly Musonda, also just 20, could also represent an attractive addition to Conte’s squad. The youngster’s potential is undeniable and his showings last season for Real Betis confirmed the same. He earned a full-season loan at the club, but a coaching change and a couple injuries derailed that effort. Musonda played less than 300 minutes this season at Betis before returning to Cobham. It was another classic tale of how a prestigious member of Chelsea’s ever-expanding loan army had failed to flourish out on loan.
Musonda is unique in his own right, and his small stature may deceive, but many regard him to be the most talented youngster to emerge from the academy. His vast potential is one that needs to be nurtured and nurtured very carefully and perhaps by Chelsea themselves rather than by a third party.
While there is no certainty whatsoever that either player will stay with Chelsea the rest of the season, the fact that they remain at the club with only four days remaining of the transfer window shows that Conte’s at least considering his options. When drawn for comment on their futures, Conte has preferred to remain elusive and vague (though positive), but should either Musonda or Kenedy make it past the 11pm deadline on Tuesday night, Chelsea will have potentially taken another significant step towards improving the nurturing and reintegration of young talent at the club.
Throughout the Roman era, Chelsea have developed a famous habit of looking to spend rather than utilise the options already available to us. Perhaps Conte is the man to reverse this trend? Whisper it quietly, but the winds of change are beckoning.