Aké successful thanks to character, left leg and leap of faith
Is it form? Vision? Resilience? Nathan Aké, the left-winger, the defender, is in the starting lineup tonight at Manchester City, the first Champions League match for his club after the winter break. Of course Aké is in the starting lineup. Just like at the World Cup, he is proving his worth.
“What a season he is playing,” City coach Pep Guardiola told the BBC in January after Aké made it 1-0 in the FA Cup cracker against Arsenal.
“He kept one of the toughest opponents in the Premier League in check. Bukayo Saka is incredible at the moment. Nathan is good in the duels and his strength at dead game moments is a bonus. He is an exceptional guy. There was a period when he didn’t play and he never complained. Those are the players you want as a coach. He deserves all the good things in life.”
The 28-year-old player himself said of this, “From a young age, I was taught that you should always keep going and never give up. That your chance can come again.”
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That mentality is recognizable to many who worked closely with him. “I already knew him from the youth team and he made a very good impression,” said Fred Grim. As interim national team coach, Grim had Aké make his debut in the Dutch national team in late May 2017, in a practice match against Morocco (2-1 win). Aké was at left back and played the entire match.
“I was hugely satisfied with Aké. The way he manifested himself on the field, the way he was outside. Correct. He kept appointments and was reliable. He came from a good nest. I remember his parents were always with him.”
Leap of faith
At the age of 16, Aké took the leap to London. Many boys dream of that step to the Premier League. So young, such a jump, that often doesn’t go well, because if you sit on the bench at an English club, you don’t stand out.
So it makes more sense to first make your debut in the premier league, pump up your value considerably and only then enter the transfer market. Aké also took a while to find his form.
Here’s how Aké stands out among fellow Dutchmen who also tried their luck in the Premier League:
The Dutch soccer player went from the youth teams of ADO Den Haag and Feyenoord, to Chelsea. At the age of 17, he made his debut in the Premier League. A dream, but the defender had to wait a long time for his chances.
After rental spells at Reading, Watford and Bournemouth, Aké got a contract at Bournemouth in 2017. That went with peaks, but mostly valleys. With the deep valley being relegation from the Premier League in 2020.
Giving the relegation spot
So after a long season, Aké was in need of a vacation. To try to give that relegation a place. Barely back from vacation, the Dutchman was suddenly a player of one of the biggest clubs in the world. For a transfer fee of – apparently – 44 million euros.
“I didn’t expect it to go so fast,” he said about that. Although it was completely true according to his own adage of: always keep going, never give up. Because your chance may come again.
The road to the top involves trial and error, sometimes literally. In 2016, as a Watford player, Aké inadvertently landed in the ditch along the pitch. The damage was not too bad and with a little help from his Bournemouth opponent, he was back on the pitch in no time.
Aké now has a regular starting place at Manchester City, but it wasn’t easy: “The first year here was difficult for me. Due to injuries, I didn’t get into my rhythm well. Then things improved, the confidence actually came the previous season. Now I get a lot of playing time.”
The international is currently enjoying a good season, either as a central defender or as a left back. “In which position I play, I don’t care much. Manager Pep Guardiola is always clear, so I always know what he expects from me. Moreover, he knows what to expect from me. And that is not that I score a goal every week.”
Aké plays tonight with Manchester City against RB Leipzig. On Tuesday night, he attended the press conference:
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