Nathan Aké apparently speaks with “no trace of bitterness” is in his voice as he “fondly” remembers his time at Chelsea — from age 16 to 22 (2011-17) — though it’s certainly not because of the mere 17 appearances he made for the first-team. Instead, it’s because of the people he had come across, most notably John Terry, Paulo Ferreira, and even Diego Costa, who helped him get past some of the setbacks he suffered during his career as a Chelsea youngster, especially in the summer of 2013, when the returning José “Happy is the New Special” Mourinho sent him back down to the reserves without so much as a kick of the ball. (In fact, he wasn’t even included in the pre-season tour of Asia that summer.)
“I went to the first team at Chelsea and played under Rafa Benitez and I always thought, ‘why is everyone saying setbacks are coming because everything is going up, up, up?’ The season after Benitez left I thought, ’this is going to be my season’. Then Jose Mourinho came and, without training, I got dropped into the second team.
“That was one of the toughest things for me, mentally. I was quite broken. Everything was going great, I played a few games, I was Young Player of the Year and then I was in the reserves again.”
-Nathan Aké; source: Telegraph
Aké was 18 and while he’d put pen to paper on a new five-year contract later that summer, his Chelsea “career” never quite recovered. He’d spend time on loan at Reading, Watford, and lastly Bournemouth but Chelsea recalling him in January 2017 only to be barely utilized the rest of that season was the final straw. Aké went back to the Cherries as their record signing later that summer and he’s been a fixture in their team ever since.
It’s unclear why this question is brought up in the Telegraph’s interview with the now 24-year-old, but Aké has talked about this turning point at Chelsea before, most notably three years ago, when the above moment with Mourinho was described as “quite difficult” instead.
“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.”
-Nathan Aké; April 2016
Unfortunately, Aké’s chance never really came, despite Mourinho’s usual (empty) promises. It’s a familiar story. Perhaps one day Chelsea will learn the lessons that need to be learned — or will be forced to learn them through transfer bans and FIFA loan rule changes.
For Aké himself, the decision to move on has paid off already. Now he gets to take walks on the beach with his dog, even!
“I was never really a dog guy, we never had dogs in the house when I was young. But my missus did so we got this dog and I always thought, ‘how can you love dogs?’ But when I got one, it’s one of the best things. He’s always happy. When you lose games he is the one who jumps on you.”
-Nathan Aké; source: Telegraph
Dogs are the best. And Nathan’s alright, too, I suppose. (N.B. Chelsea may or may not have a buy-back clause — probably not? — even if wanted to come back.)