The last two seasons hadn't quite gone to plan for young Nathan Ake, who bears a striking resemblance to his compatriot and former Chelsea player-manager Ruud Gullit, but he has taken a big leap forward in his development this season with his exploits on loan at Premier League newcomers Watford.
After being named just as a substitute in the first few games, Ake was handed his chance to impress when injury struck left winger Jurado, causing manager Quique Sanchez Flores to shift then-first-choice left back, Ikechi Anya further up the flank. There's been no looking back since: Ake seized his opportunity with both hands and made the left back spot his own. The 21-year-old has been instrumental in keeping Watford comfortably above the relegation zone all season, ensuring that their stay in the Premier League isn't just a one-and-done affair unlike the last two times they achieved promotion to the top tier of English football.
Speaking to the Guardian, Ake spoke comprehensively about his season at Watford, his history at Chelsea and relationship with Jose Mourinho, and of course, his future.
"Some of us went alone to clubs in other countries, so we chat in the group to see how everyone is getting on,"
"We are quite close, which is nice. I think it helps us with our football as well."
Other players out on loan have mentioned the existence of the Chelsea Loanee WhatsApp group before as well. It's nice to know that the soldiers of our loan army keep in touch with each other, as well as with the parent club via loan liaisons such as former Chelsea favorite Paulo Ferreira who helps keep tabs on all thirty-four of our loanees as an "assistant loan player technical coach".
Turning his attentions to his Chelsea past, Ake reveals that it took some convincing to join us initially, but like we've done in other cases as well, we made arrangements for other family members as well as part of the deal. Plus, we had the Didier Drogba ace in the hole.
"I remember Didier Drogba coming over to say hello. He told us about the family atmosphere at the club and how everything worked. That was quite special, also because my dad is from Ivory Coast. After seeing the club from the inside, I realised its big extent."
"He (Ake's brother) got a job in the Chelsea fan store but that wasn't really for him. Now he is enrolled at a university, which he really enjoys. He also started to play football in a university team."
After being handed his first few Cheslea appearances by Rafael Benitez, Ake's development seemed to take a few steps in the wrong direction with the arrival of Jose Mourinho, who initially sent Ake back to play and train with the youth team rather than the first team.
"That was quite a difficult moment to be honest. After winning the Europa League and the Young Player of the Year award, I was focused on continuing the process, so it came as a bit of a surprise."
"I asked the manager what I could improve, if there were things I could adapt in my game, but Mourinho said I was training well and performing well in the games I played but that I had to wait for my chance. And I could understand it, as there were so many big players at the club."
Despite the temporary setback, Ake worked as hard as ever and eventually forced his way back into first-team training, although he didn't see many actual minutes and made just one appearance all season. However, he only has good things to say about Mourinho, as well as his current manager at Watford, Quique Sanchez Flores.
"When you are playing a game and he (Mourinho) is coaching on the sideline, you get the same emotion - you are going to run harder. He's got that. He is good in transmitting his message, and tactically he is strong too. When you speak to him off the field, he is a really nice man as well. If you are having your breakfast at the club, and he is sitting next to you, you can talk about everything with him."
"He (Flores) is quieter than Mourinho, and talks with you about things after training sessions. He is good in tactically organising the team, like how we can compete against big teams for instance. I think our team responds well to his methods."
So then, the big question, what's next? The only thing that seems certain is that there is plenty of uncertainty around Ake's future. But a new manager coming in at Chelsea may just turn out to be a good thing for the youngster.
"Before the season I thought it would be a good year if I managed to get 15 starts, with perhaps a few extra games as a sub. I have worked really hard and it has turned out really well."
"I realised this was a very important year for myself. I don't know yet where I will be next season. In principle I will report for pre-season at Chelsea but I don't know their plans. Obviously they have a new manager [Antonio Conte] as well."
-Nathan Ake; source: Guardian
Already an asset to a Premier League side at such a young age, Ake could be closer than most other loanees to one day actually making it as a Chelsea regular. He's got a positive attitude, he works hard, and he's had an excellent season out on loan. He could prove to be (at least) a valuable squad player for Chelsea next season, especially given his versatility (left back, center back, defensive midfield). However, with the impending arrival of Antonio Conte in the summer and the season we've had, what happens to just about any of our players is up in the air. Here's hoping that uncertainty begets good things for Nathan Ake.