It has been a transformative year for Victor Moses and Chelsea.
Antonio Conte’s decision to convert the Nigerian into a wing-back early in the 2016-17 campaign was instrumental in both driving the Blues to a Premier League title and also reviving Moses’ Stamford Bridge career.
The 26-year-old is currently out with a hamstring strain but that will not stop him remembering 2017 fondly. As well as securing his first English championship, he played a starring role as Nigeria became the first African nation to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Having already been nominated for the Confederation of African Football’s (CAF) Player of the Year award, Moses has now been named one of the top-five players from his continent as voting for the BBC’s African Player of the Year prize opens.
It is an honour that has previously been bestowed upon former Chelsea greats Didier Drogba, Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel.
“Yes, it is amazing,” Moses told Goal in an exclusive interview. “I am pleased with the position I am in today. My manager and team-mates helped me and encouraged me.
“It shows how hard I worked last year but it isn’t about being nominated but winning [the award]. Whatever the outcome is, I know that I have had a great year at the club and with the national team as well.
“I was part of the first African team to qualify for the World Cup as well which was good for us. I am pleased to follow in [the former Chelsea players’] footsteps; now I want to take my football to the next level.
“Every season I want to be the best I can to be Africa’s best player. I will do the best I can.
“To be honest with you, it is just about hard work. Once you put in the hard work then everything else falls into place.
“I am a player that will always look up to Didier [Drogba]. He is a legend, not just Africa and Chelsea, but the whole world. Didier is a great player.
“He scores goals, assists and he’s got everything that you’d ask for in a striker. We as African players are all proud of what Didier achieved as a player. The way he holds himself is unbelievable.
“Mikel and Essien have been nominated too. I am proud that we were nominated for the same awards.”
Moses was born in Lagos, the largest city in Nigeria, but moved to England at age 11 as an asylum seeker after his parents were killed in a religious attack.
His talent saw him quickly scouted by a number of London’s best clubs. Crystal Palace saw off Tottenham to add him to their academy ranks and he arrived at Chelsea for £9 million after the early promise he had shown at Palace earned him a move to Wigan Athletic, then a Premier League side.
Success in west London was not immediate, and Moses was sent on loan to Liverpool, Stoke City and West Ham.
But Chelsea now count on Moses as their first-choice right wing-back. They have been without him for the past month, forcing Cesar Azpilicueta to fill in.
The Spaniard may not possess Moses’ direct running or goalscoring threat but the 26-year-old says no one has been a bigger influence on him as he has adapted to the defensive demands of his new role.
“I’d say Azpilicueta [has influenced me most],” Moses revealed. “He played a huge part in my defensive development last season.
“He is always behind me, always constantly talking to me to make sure I am in the right position. When is the time to go and when’s the time to stay.
“The more games I was playing, [the more] we were getting used to the formation and position I was playing, which worked out well for me and he helped a lot.
“He understands me. We established a partnership which was very good.
“To me, I would say that Cesar is underrated. As a defender he has got everything. He’s quick, he’s got that desire, passion for the game. He just wants to play football. Azpilicueta is never tired. He can run all night in every minute. He wants to play every game.
“I think he could play on a Saturday and then again on a Monday. He’s got a great ability.
“It is great for us that we have him. He’s someone that loves the game. He is always talking to every player before games. He wakes everyone up and says we have got to go out there and win this game.
“The position I am playing at right wing-back, I know I can score goals there. Wherever the manager plays me, I will play. I am not a player who tells him where I want to play and where I don’t want to play. I just want to enjoy my football. It is just a matter of time and the goals will come.
“I am now used to this system after playing there last year. I hope to score more goals this season and help my team-mates. As a player, every season you want to do better than you did last season.
“I want to be better this season than last season. I am aiming for more goals and assists.
“I have already got the fitness. First of all, it is about the hard work you put in to help the team as much as you can. Going forward, I would like more goals and assists.”
Chelsea have seen a number of first-team players suffer injuries in the past month and their form has dipped as a result. As well as Moses, Alvaro Morata, N’Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater have spent time on the sidelines since the last international break.
With that being the case, Moses thinks that criticism of the team’s form had gone too far and admitted that his recent injury was a bad one that he cannot rush back from.
“The rehab has been going very well and hopefully I can just take my time to get myself as fit as possible to go back out there and enjoy my football again,” Moses said. “It is always frustrating when you watch the lads and you want to go in there yourself to try to help, to do the best you can to help the lads.
“Apart from that, it is always frustrating to watch from the sidelines when you just want to go out there and play football. You have to be disciplined, you don’t get to spend much time with the players. I am always by myself with the physio, trying to concentrate on my rehab to get back as quickly as possible.
“The lads are doing well and I hope I can keep my feet on the floor and get into the games.
“It was a bad one, it was a grade-three hamstring tear which is very bad so I have got to take my time. If I rush myself back then I could just fall back down again so it is about taking my time to be 100% fit to do what I am best at.
“I have started doing runs and movements this week, hopefully next week we can see what will happen. I have not done much ball work yet but in my head I feel good and hopefully I should be okay soon.
“I think we have done well [in my absence]. We as a team, whatever happens, we stick together as a team and do the best we can. I think people have been a bit too harsh but we as players don’t need to think about that or concentrate on what people have been saying after losing against Roma.
“We believe in ourselves collectively and individually, we have great players. We just take each game as it comes. We beat Manchester United, now everyone is saying that we’re the best, football is like this. We believe in ourselves and work hard together as a team.”