Under-fire Chelsea manager Antonio Conte has softened his public stance on his club’s transfer policy, insisting that the Blues are “trying to build something important” by investing in developing their academy prospects.

Despite being critical in recent months over Chelsea’s “austerity policy” when it has come to player recruitment in the last two transfer windows, the Italian was very much the optimist earlier when he spoke of the Blues looking to nurture the next generation of home-grown superstars rather than splashing out big money on short-term marquee signings.

While some supporters have expressed their frustration over the long line of Chelsea academy players seemingly being brought up only to be loaned out this term, the 48-year-old pointed out that youth development is still very much a priority for the club – with the fact that the average age of his squad has fallen significantly being evident of that. Conte said: “As you can see, we are working a lot with, for example, Ampadu. He’s only 17 years old. Christensen is only 21 years old. Bakayoko is only 23. Zappacosta only 25. We took a lot of young players.

“I think we are doing a fantastic job. We are trying to build something important with work – not with words or money.”

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Barkley and Palmieri long-term investments

Although that last statement may sound a little hollow considering the fact that the Blues spent close to £60 million in the January transfer window, bringing in Ross Barkley, Emerson Palmieri and Olivier Giroud to bolster their ranks, it should be noted that the former two players are only 24 and 23, respectively, with both being seen as long-term investments at Stamford Bridge.

As to whether Antonio Conte himself will be a long-term investment remains to be seen, however. Following a dismal run of form that has seen the reigning Premier League champions slip to fourth in the table and out of the running to retain their title, the Italian’s role at the Bridge has come under ever-increasing scrutiny. Should Chelsea fail to win their crunch clash with Watford away from home this evening, calls for the Italian’s head will surely grow even stronger – despite the apparent optimism in his words earlier.