Chelsea head coach Antonio Conte admitted he changed his mind about Cesc Fabregas, praising the midfielder for forcing his way into his plans.
Fabregas struggled for playing time early last season, Conte’s first at the club, before fighting his way in as Chelsea went on to win the Premier League title.
The Spain international has already made 12 league starts this season after making just 13 in 2016-17.
“Cesc at the start of last season didn’t play a lot, but I was very happy because through the work he tried to change my mind and it happened,” the Italian said ahead of his side’s Champions League clash against Atletico Madrid.
“If you remember the second part of last season he started to play with regularity and first part of last season I played almost every game with [N’Golo] Kante and [Nemanja] Matic.
“But in the second part of the season Cesc played a lot of games, and he was very important for us to win the title.
“This season he has continued to work very hard, showed me great commitment and behaviour and the coach has to make the best decision.”
Fabregas has won two league titles since joining Chelsea from Barcelona in June 2014.
Conte believes there is more to come from Fabregas, who has contributed a goal and three assists in the league this season.
“He is still young for sure. When you are 30 years old you have at least five more years to play football,” he said.
Cesc Fabregas is proud to have proved Antonio Conte wrong and feels fit and fresh enough to go on playing for Chelsea for years.
This time last season, Fabregas had started only four competitive games for his club’s Italian manager but has since forced Conte to change his mind.
This season, only two outfield players — Cesar Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso — have played more minutes for Chelsea and Fabregas has made a strong case for a new deal when his contract expires in 18 months.
Cesc Fabregas hopes to fulfil his long-awaited dream of Champions League glory with Chelsea
‘I would be lying if said I wasn’t worried,’ said Fabregas. ‘Maybe worried is not the right word but you can imagine, I wasn’t playing and not really part of his initial plans.
‘At that point you can do one of two things, just give up and accept you’re not part of the team or the club in the future or what I did — put your head down, be humble, work hard and train hard every day, and show him that he’s wrong and that he can trust me to play in this team.
‘Every time I had an opportunity I gave my all, I delivered and from then on we started to create a relationship.
‘Now I can say our relationship is fantastic. I understand his philosophy and must say I am very proud of this and also very happy I am where I want to be and that’s all down to belief and trust and hard work.’
Fabregas revealed he had to adapt to Conte’s method and philosophy in training and be fitter, work harder and adapt defensively to a new role.