In only his second season on loan, Ola Aina has already picked a big challenge for himself by joining Serie A club Torino. Thankfully, Aina has risen to the task, and he holds a firm grasp on the right back spot of the side’s starting eleven through the first games of the 2018-19 season.
“It is a step up. Playing top flight football offers me different challenges. It has helped me to become a better player and my development, just all the things that I have learned abroad in Italy, I am bringing what I have learned here into the national side and I hope it will pay off in the long run.”
“The players are really established and experienced so it was good to come up against that calibre of footballer. It will just make me better.”
At age 22 Aina is already a Nigeria international with 5 caps to his name. Both at club and national team level, he has spent most of his time on the pitch as a full-back, playing on either flank of the field.
Now under the tutelage of Walter Mazzarri, the manager who made Napoli famous with his trademark 3-5-2 tactics, he is being asked to play a bit further — and with a sharper edge in attack — as a wing-back for the Turin side.
“I am working on the tactical side, positioning, staying concentrated and just being able to effect the game higher up the pitch as well.”
“I have played both left and right whenever I am called upon. I don’t think it is a problem and I enjoy it as well. Chelsea agreed it would be good for my development to focus on the tactical side.”
Before making his choice to join Torino, Aina had several teams to choose from. Key to his decision to join Torino was not just playing time but the appeal of working with a coach such as Mazzarri, in a country that Aina already enjoyed thanks to his travels there during his holidays.
“It wasn’t that he promised me game time as such. We have a lot of players who are good so everyone is fighting for a position. He was just telling me that he can develop me, that I am a good player but that he can make me better on the tactical side of the game.”
“[Playing time] is something I think I need at this point in my career. It was really appealing to me and it was a really positive discussion. I had a few options. I chose Italy and Torino because I am a little bit more familiar with Italy because I like to go every year on holiday. It was just more appealing to me to work with their coaches really.”
“Mazzarri was eager to get me on board and help me with the different aspects of my game. He just really wanted to work with me so it was an easy decision for me to go there.”
Thus far, the decision is paying off. He is transitioning the Championship to the tactical battles of the Italian Serie A, facing high-class opponents and even improving his Italian in the meantime.
“Even just in my first game I was up against the likes of [Daniele] De Rossi, [Stephan] El Shaarawy. [Edin] Dzeko and [Aleksandar] Kolarov, all these top players that have had really good careers so far.”
“The first game [against Roma] was a bit difficult because of the language, but as the games have gone on I have learned the language a little bit. It was a good game but unfortunately we lost 1-0. But it was a really good game for me.”
“It is getting easier for me to communicate with the players on the pitch. The game time is helping me, obviously. Every time I play I am developing and learning.”
This Torino loan move is pointing towards being the last one in Aina’s career. Given the buy-option included in his loan contract, the season will end with him either moving permanently to the Italian team, or going back to Chelsea.
And it is the latter option that he's hoping for.
“I have just been talking to Chelsea, I know they would keep tabs on me. I know they are watching and paying attention to me.”
“I think that it could be my final loan move [before playing in the Premier League]. It is my aim for my career to play in the Premier League, I don’t know when but I think this is a step that’s going to help me to get there. Hopefully it helps.”
-Ola Aina; source: Goal