LONDON -- Cesc Fabregas insisted that he is still "very young" at 30 and feels as fit as at any point in his Chelsea career after working hard to gain Antonio Conte's trust at Stamford Bridge.
This time last year, Fabregas had started just four matches in all competitions under Conte, who harboured doubts about the Spain international's defensive capabilities and instead favoured N'Golo Kante and Nemanja Matic as the two midfielders in his 3-4-3 system.
His lack of opportunities led to speculation about his future at the club, but Fabregas always insisted he had no desire to leave and eventually forced his way into Conte's plans, registering more Premier League assists (12) then any other Blues player on their run to the title last season.
This season, with Kante, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Danny Drinkwater all hampered by injuries, he has already started 18 games in all competitions.
"I would be lying if I say that I wasn't worried," Fabregas admitted at a press conference to preview Chelsea's Champions League clash with Atletico Madrid.
"Maybe worried is not the right word. I wasn't playing, I wasn't really part of his initial plans and at that point you can do two things. You can just give up and accept you are not going to be part of the team or the club in the future.
"The other is what I did: put your head down and be humble, work hard, train hard in every session, show him that he's wrong, that he can trust you, that you can play in this team. That's what I did, and every time I had an opportunity I gave my all.
"From then on we started to create a relationship, and I think I would say now that my relationship with the manager is fantastic. He trusts me, I know what he wants from me and I know exactly what I can give to the team. I understood his philosophies, his methods of training, and I adapted very well.
"I must say I'm very proud of this. At the same time I'm very happy because I'm where I want to be. That's all down to belief, trust and hard work."
Asked how Fabregas had convinced him of his worth, Conte added: "Cesc at the start of last season didn't play a lot. But I was very happy because through work he tried to change my mind and it happened.
"If you remember the second part of last season he started to play with regularity, 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.
"The coach wants to win like the players and the fans and the club. I try to make the best decision. This season, he's playing with regularity and performing well. I hope he can continue this way."
Fabregas will enter the final year of his current contract next summer, but he dismissed the suggestion that Chelsea's policy of only offering players aged 30 and older one-year extensions could be a problem.
"I am only 30," he insisted. "What is 30? Nothing. I'm very young. I really mean it. Especially how I play, the position I play. You can go for many more years. I can tell you many cases. It's true at the end of the year I have a year left, but let's see what happens.
"I'm where I want to be. I'm enjoying my football. When the moment comes to talk about different things I'll be here, ready for it. Right now I don't think it's the right time. I just want to focus on Chelsea, to feel good and deliver points and trophies for the club."
Conte agreed with his midfielder's assessment.
"When you are 30 years old you have at least five more years to play football," he added.
"At this level you must have great desire and great will to play at this level, because it is not simple. There is a lot of competition with other players but Cesc has great ambition. He's a winner in his mind, in his mentality, and for this reason he is very strong."