Antonio Conte admits he finds it “incredible” that Victor Moses was cast aside during Jose Mourinho’s time at Chelsea, and insists he recognised the Nigerian’s potential from the moment he arrived at Stamford Bridge.
Moses has been arguably the surprise success story of the Premier League this season, establishing himself as a regular and effective starter in the unfamiliar role of right wing-back since Conte’s decision to switch Chelsea to a 3-4-3 formation at the end of September.
It is a spectacular upturn in fortunes for a player who impressed in his debut season at Chelsea under Rafa Benitez but was deemed surplus to requirements when Mourinho returned in the summer of 2013. Loan spells at Liverpool, Stoke City and West Ham followed where he struggled for consistency.
Last month, Moses said that Mourinho never explained why he saw no place for him in his first team squad. Conte, by contrast, never had any doubts about his talent and ability to make a valuable contribution.
“I recognised his potential right from day one of preseason,” Conte told Gazzetta dello Sport. “Moses has great quality, technique, physical strength and the ability to cover 70 metres of the pitch. I find it incredible that somebody like him could have been underrated.”
One big reason for Chelsea’s revival this season has been Conte’s success in getting Diego Costa and Eden Hazard to peak physical condition and form. Between them the pair have scored 17 of the Blues’ 27 Premier League goals, and have scaled new heights since the shift to 3-4-3.
“Diego is one of the best centre-forwards in the world,” Conte said of Costa, reiterating comments he made on Monday. “For us, he’s important not only as a man who scores goals, but also for his willingness to work for the team.
“The progress he is making in terms of his attitude are down to his application. He has realised that he needs to improve in terms of how he keeps his nerve.
“There can be no discussing Eden’s talent. He’s a world class player and a great lad. He’s got a surprising maturity for his age. He’s already built a family and he’s only just turned 25.”
Conte again insisted that neither Cesc Fabregas nor Oscar will be leaving Stamford Bridge in January, despite reports that both could seek regular first-team football elsewhere, adding: “It’s gossip. I have no intention of sending them away. They are important players for Chelsea.”