Nathan Ake has been recalled from his loan spell at Bournemouth by Chelsea with immediate effect, the club confirmed on Sunday afternoon.
Ake initially struggled for minutes under Eddie Howe, but grew into a vital part of the Bournemouth side. The young dutch defender ending up appearing in 12 matches for Bournemouth and scored three goals, an impressive haul for a centre-back.
Chelsea’s loan system has received its share of criticism over the past few years with very few players successfully returning from loans. Ake is hardly the first player to enjoy success while on loan, but the previous players to do so all failed to catch on with Chelsea.
Kevin de Bruyne enjoyed successful loans in Germany before failing to break into Jose Mourinho’s side, Romelu Lukaku proved himself as a Premier League striker while on loan but was ultimately sold to Everton, and Patrick Bamford was named Championship Player of the Year before seeing his career stall with another loan move.
Thibaut Courtois is the best example of a player successfully returning from loan, unseating club legend Petr Cech after a successful spell with Atletico Madrid.
Ake seems to be well positioned to join Courtois as a loan system success story. The 21-year old’s greatest strength may be his versatility, he is capable of playing centre-back, left-back, and in the midfield. Ake also has the advantage of being left-footed, something no other member of Chelsea’s back three possesses.
While it is unlikely that Ake will walk in and take Gary Cahill’s starting possession, Cahill playing on the left of the back three has always been a slightly awkward fit. But perhaps the area will Ake will be most able to contribute is in the left-wing back position currently occupied by Marcos Alonso. Alonso has certainly been solid in his debut campaign, but there has remained a feeling among Chelsea fans that he is the weak link in the starting XI.
The question remains, will recalling Ake be better for his long-term development? If the Dutchman is reduced to the odd appearance from the bench to close out the game, a la Branislav Ivanovic, then perhaps it would’ve made more sense for Ake to remain with the Cherries where game time seems assured.
But with Antonio Conte committed to Chelsea for the foreseeable future he surely believes that recalling Ake will be beneficial to the 21-year-old’s development as well Chelsea’s current campaign. What is sure, is that Ake will add depth to the squad in multiple positions, which could prove invaluable if injuries pop up during the run in.
Ultimately, the decision to recall Ake is a risk. The best case scenario would see Ake cement himself in Chelsea’s starting line-up and help contribute to Chelsea’s title run.
But equally possible is that Ake will be reduced to the bench and miss out on valuable game time he could have had at Bournemouth.
However, the move shows that Conte rates Ake highly and believes that he can be the first member of Chelsea’s loan army to break into the squad.