Nathan Aké – The litmus test for Chelsea’s underperforming youth system

If you were given a pound for every time someone mentions that John Terry is still the most recent first-team graduate from the Chelsea academy, you would probably accumulate enough money by now to buy the club outright and force incoming boss Antonio Conte to field a starting line-up of 15 year-olds for the first game of the season.

Following the club’s worst season since Roman Abramovich took charge, one of the biggest grievances among Chelsea fans is that, even during a Premier League campaign which essentially ended in November, the club still failed to promote a single youth player into a regular first-team role.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Bertrand Traore have shown glimpses of what they are capable of; yet even as the season fizzled out, neither were trusted to start more than one or two games on the bounce.


With the season now over, and some thirty players returning from loan spells across Europe, Chelsea will be looking to rebuild before what promises to be the most competitive Premier League season of all time.

Among the many returning players is 21 year-old Nathan Aké, signed in 2010 from Feyenoord, and employed most recently by fellow Premier League competitors Watford FC.

Following an impressive season with ‘The Hornets’, and the indifferent form of Chelsea left-back Baba Rahman, Aké stands a good chance of becoming the first player to break the duck and complete the transition into the Chelsea first team.

Aké made 28 appearances for Watford last season and rarely looked out of his depth despite limited Premier League experience.

His omission from the PFA Young Player of the Year nominees came as a surprise to some, with Ross Barkley shortlisted despite a disappointing end to the season.

Among the other nominees was Barkley’s teammate Romelu Lukaku, who, not long ago found himself in a similar position to Aké at Chelsea, following two successful loan-spells at West Bromwich Albion and Everton respectively.

Lukaku was eventually sold to Everton in 2014, having netted 16 times in 33 games during his loan-spell at Goodison Park the season before.

At the time, the £28 million fee paid by Everton seemed like good business for Chelsea; however, two seasons, and 45 goals later, the Belgian is now being linked with a £50m plus move back to Chelsea.

Lukaku’s development stands as an example of what may have been had he been given a chance in the Chelsea first-team.


Likewise, Kevin De Bruyne was sold by Chelsea to Wolfsburg for £18m before Manchester City forked out £55 million for him last summer; while Nemanja Matic was re-signed by Chelsea for £21 million having previously been let go with only two first-team appearances to his name.

This bizarre policy that Chelsea employ of stockpiling the best young players in Europe and loaning them out to other clubs for experience is fundamentally flawed, by the fact that Chelsea are seemingly unable to spot when a player is good enough to actually play for Chelsea.

The club’s next test is what to do with Nathan Aké. If the board were content with signing Baba Rahman following one half-decent season in the Bundesliga, then surely by that logic Aké should walk straight into the team following an impressive season in the Premier League.

That being said, left-back in particular has been a cursed position for young Chelsea hopefuls, with both Ryan Bertrand and Patrick Van Aanholt now plying their trade at other Premier League clubs having failed to make the grade at Chelsea.

Back in 2013, as Ashley Cole approached the end of his Chelsea career, Bertrand seemed the logical replacement for Chelsea’s long-serving left-back.

He even started in a Champions League final for the club, but before long found himself way down the pecking order.

Chelsea eventually elected to sell him to fund a move for Filipe Luís of Atletico Madrid, who himself only lasted one season at the club, before Rahman was brought in as his replacement.

By that time, Bertrand was performing week-in week-out for Southampton, and was exactly what Chelsea needed in their back four.

The club must now be careful not to make the same mistake with Aké. With the restrictions of Financial Fair Play, Chelsea can no longer afford to be reckless with their signing of players.

Nor can they continue to waste the talent at their disposal from the £9 million per-annum academy set-up.

If the club’s plan is simply to develop players and sell for a profit, then there is no question that it is failing miserably. Signing Victor Moses for £10 million, before loaning him out for three seasons in a row does not make economic sense.

The same goes for Marko Marin, Marco Van Ginkel, Christian Atsu…the list goes on.

The current policy is going nowhere. Chelsea are neither grooming players to become first-team regulars, nor do they appear to be making any kind of significant profit.

In recent months, both Ola Aina (19) and Domingos Quina (16) have rejected new deals from the club, citing a lack of opportunity for first-team football.

Promoting Aké into the first team may be the change that the club needs, to inspire those in charge to make the most of the fruits being offered up from the academy – many of which were ripe enough to pick years ago.

The decision the club make regarding Aké’s future will be the litmus test for Chelsea’s development of youngsters.

Logic suggests he should be given a role in the first-team setup, both for economic reasons, and to prove to other young players at the club that they do have a future at Chelsea FC.

In reality, Aké will probably end up signing permanently for another Premier League club and John Terry will retire having never played regularly for Chelsea alongside a fellow academy graduate.

Author Details

Lewis Blakeman

Student at University of Bristol. Can't afford to watch Chelsea, so follow Dulwich Hamlet home and away. Big fan of Latin American football. Currently based in Mozambique.

2 thoughts on “Nathan Aké – The litmus test for Chelsea’s underperforming youth system

  1. Half hearted attempt to grasp Chelseas policy. Far too much subjectivity . For instance let’s look at Moses. His loan fee will gone a long way toward paying both his initial fee and wages . At this point in time his amortised value is way below his true value meaning were he to be sold the fee would probably, in accounting terms show a profit.
    Marina as brought as a squad player, but failed miserably, being on a long contract and not being up to PL he has been loaned out. Again his loan fee will just about have paid his wages and initial transfer fee.Van Ginkel was making great strides but suffered that horrendous knee injury. At Stoke he clearly was struggling either physically or mentally so the loan to PSV has gone well for him. Will he return to England? Who knows.
    Aina is interesting to see how it develops but Quina has never been on the payroll at Chelsea so couldn’t have been offered a new deal.

  2. You are absolutely right man, Chelsea FC needs to channel their priority right hence they will keep on loosing young quality players

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