Time is right for Alvaro Morata to be Chelsea's main man - Antonio Conte
LONDON -- Antonio Conte believes that now is "the right time" for Alvaro Morata to assume the responsibility of being the first-choice striker at a top club, and joked that the Spain international is the kind of man he would one day like his daughter to marry.
Morata has hit the ground running in the Premier League since completing a £58 million move from Real Madrid to Chelsea this summer, registering three goals and two assists in his first five appearances in the competition.
His impressive form has also helped Conte deflect endless questions about Diego Costa, who on Thursday was confirmed as returning to Atletico Madrid on loan in January with a commitment to buy for £58m next summer after spending three months in acrimonious exile in Brazil.
Prior to this season Morata had never started more than 18 league matches in a single campaign for Real Madrid or Juventus. But Conte is confident that the Spain international is capable of shouldering the bulk of the scoring burden at Chelsea ahead of their Saturday match against Stoke.
"I think for Alvaro it's the right moment to have this situation, to be the striker in a great team," Conte said. "Don't forget with his previous experiences at Juventus and Real Madrid he played but not every game, not regularly. For this reason he is at the right age to have this responsibility.
"He is a good player, he is a complete player, technically strong, a good leader, and he has a lot of room for improvement. Morata is 24 years old which means you have possibility to work with this player for 10 years.
"He is a complete player but also he has a lot of room to improve in every situation: in tactical, physical, technical aspects.
"He's very committed, his behaviour is always fantastic. He is a very polite player. I like this. Also I like he's a good finisher, he feels the goal in every moment. He's very good at understanding which is the best position in the box to receive the ball, to understand where the ball is going."
Asked what he meant by calling Morata "polite", Conte replied: "It means you have a daughter and you'd be open to have this type of person with your daughter, to marry your daughter. A really good guy, a polite person. But my daughter is young! Don't touch my daughter because I'm jealous!"
There were suggestions in some quarters following last weekend's goalless draw with Arsenal that Chelsea are missing Costa's fiery presence with the more understated Morata leading the attack, and Conte revealed he is also working to improve that side of the 24-year-old's game.
"This is a process for him," Conte continued. "When I speak about a lot of room for improvement it also means this aspect, to be [aggressive]."
Costa's volatile nature helped ensure that the end of his working relationship with Conte was less than amicable, but Chelsea's head coach insisted that there is no lingering ill will on his side.
Asked if he would shake Costa's hand the next time they meet, Conte replied: "Yeah, I have no problem."
Liam is ESPN FC's Chelsea correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Liam_Twomey.