Ola Aina’s Chelsea story is a rather familiar one. Born in London to Nigerian parents — you might remember his father being uber-cool from this 2016 video — he joined the Blues at an early age (under-11), worked his way up the youth system winning and impressing a lot, and arrived on the fringes of the first-team by age 18. He made his preseason first-team debut in 2014, went on tour in 2015 and 2016, impressing Conte during the latter and earning his spot in the first-team.
He had been close to leaving already by then due to a lack of opportunities — and surely, 2015-16’s “Mourinho Season” should’ve offered plenty of opportunities for him and others as well — but he was convinced at the final hour (ten days after the expiry of his contract) to sign on for four more years. He would go on to make his debut and a handful of appearances as Conte’s Chelsea stormed to the title, but instead of kicking on from there, which the narrative had been trending towards, he was farmed out to Hull City before preseason even began. Chelsea then spent £23m on Davide Zappacosta on transfer deadline day.
Twelve months later, Aina was sent packing again, this time to Torino. In the meantime, Chelsea had added another full back, Emerson from Roma for another €20m (plus €9m in potential add-ons). Zappa right, Emerson left: Aina had shown throughout his young career the ability to play on both flanks, and even in central defense.
“We’ve always known Ola has got exceptional talents — physical, technical, uses both feet, quick, powerful boy — but the question mark over his head was his concentration throughout 90 minutes. He has proved he can do that and been consistent this season. I’m really proud of him because he’s mentally tuned in now and I think we have to really start taking him seriously.”
— Eddie Newton; source: Evening Standard
At Torino, he’s also shown the quality required to play in one of the best leagues in Europe. The ultimate irony of the situation of course is that Aina is impressing at the exact team from where Chelsea signed Zappacosta twelve months prior. Zappacosta himself has been spectacularly mediocre at Chelsea and maybe that’s all Aina would’ve been, too, had he been trusted to take on that role. Still would’ve saved the club at least £23m.
It also would’ve saved the club the current last-minute (potential transfer ban-induced) scramble to try to convince Aina to not agree terms with Torino, who are expected to exercise the bargain £8.7m buy-option in the 22-year-old’s loan deal. As reported by the Evening Standard’s Simon Johnson, presumably briefed by Chelsea or Chelsea-adjacent sources, the club are having “second thoughts” about selling the homegrown defender and want to add him to the squad for next season.
“Why not [stay at Torino]? It’s a good fanbase. It’s a very cultured club. You can tell by the fans and how everything is run here. It’s a nice place to be and I am very happy right now”
-Ola Aina; source: Independent
We can only hope we learn our lesson one of these days. The current approach is not sustainable.
If a player is ready for Premier League football, loaning him to a PL club rather than taking a chance yourselves shows fear more than it shows confidence. At best you've wasted a potential year of having him. At worst you cause irrevocable damage. https://t.co/hA5lGoEjvr— Chelsea Youth (@chelseayouth) April 30, 2019