Unlike most Chelsea prospects, versatile defender Nathan Aké actually made his first-team debut before leaving the Bridge for his first loan stint. During Rafael Benítez's spell at Chelsea in the 2012-13 season, Aké earned his first appearance as a substitute to Juan Mata on a Boxing Day match against Norwich City. He then got his first start for the Blues in February 2013, in an FA Cup encounter with Middlesbrough.
"It was my first start for Chelsea. I was young, only 18 at the time, and it was a pretty good moment for me. It was when I first felt what it was to be a professional player and it was of course a big experience at the time. I played in midfield, together with Ramires, so it was a good game to be involved in and we won 2-0 as well so it was good."
"A lot of people helped me beforehand because I was quite nervous, but when I got on the pitch everyone made me feel normal and said 'just play your normal game' and I thought it went quite well."
"Then the same year, I was on the bench for the semi-final against Manchester City and that was of course a big occasion to be involved in. I didn’t come on but to be on the bench at Wembley at that time was really good."
Since then, Aké had the chance to play for Championship club Reading in a short loan spell in 2014-15 and then enjoy a successful stint in the Premier League with Watford last season. He joined Bournemouth for his second Premier League loan assignment at the start of this season, impressing especially during a run of games from October to December — so much so that Chelsea decided to recall him early and add him to the first-team (a very rare move for the Blues).
"I learned a lot [at Bournemouth], played a lot of games and that was what I needed, in a different position as well at left-back. I had played there sometimes but never whole seasons and overall it was a great experience."
One of Aké's most memorable moments in his time at Bournemouth was against Liverpool, when he scored the winning goal in the Cherries’ famous 4-3 triumph. With Chelsea set to face the Reds on Tuesday, Aké gave an insight on what makes Liverpool so hard to beat.
"Liverpool were playing so well and we were 2-0 behind straight away and it was so difficult. We thought just keep it 2-0 to half-time, otherwise it is going to be a long, long day, and we did that."
"We came out for the second half with a different mentality and pushed them hard to see what happens. We got the goal early to make it 2-1 and after that it was crazy. They scored, we scored again and it was a bit lucky my goal at the end."
"Against Liverpool you don’t have a lot of time on the ball, because their pressing is so good. There are always two people around you, and we were aware of that. You need to handle that and play out of the pressing if possible because behind that there will be space."
From his years in the youth ranks to the present as a fully fledged professional, Aké has been known as a versatile player. Able to play in the centre and the left flank of defence and midfield, we have seen the 21-year-old change between positions with ease over the years.
After featuring mostly as a left back for Watford, Aké saw himself playing as a centre back under manager Eddie Howe at Bournemouth. Although the initial plan was for him to play in midfield, he enjoyed his experience in the back line.
"I liked playing [as centre back] at Bournemouth. I went there with the idea to play no.6, just in front of the defence, but the opportunity came because there was a suspension so they put me at centre-back and it went quite well."
"It felt like old times, it was the same way actually as the way we played there in the youth at Chelsea, because there was a lot of playing on the ground and football so I was quite used to it. It made me a better player for sure."
-Nathan Aké; Source: Chelsea FC
Aké now has the opportunity to show Chelsea first-hand his development, set to start in today’s FA Cup fourth round match against Brentford.