Did Chelsea make a mistake in selling Nathan Ake to Bournemouth?
Bournemouth shattered their transfer record last summer to secure the signature of Nathan Ake from Chelsea.
The highly-rated defender, who had spent the first half of last season on loan at the Cherries, was snapped up for £20 million by boss Eddie Howe in what was one of the most eye-catching deals of the window.
Many observers questioned Howe’s wisdom in spending such an amount on a player who had failed to establish himself under a succession of Chelsea managers.
Three months into the 2017/18 campaign, however, Ake is proving himself to be worth every penny.
Slotting seamlessly into the heart of defence, the hirsute Dutchman has been ever-present and is responsible in no small way for an upturn in Bournemouth’s new-found defensive stability.
The Cherries have conceded just 14 goals in their opening 12 fixtures, which compares favourably to this stage of their previous two Premier League campaigns.
Meanwhile, back-to-back cleans sheets in the victories over Newcastle United and Huddersfield Town have lifted them to 13th in the table.
During his aforementioned loan spell, Ake initially had to make do with a spot on the bench. But once he was handed an opportunity, he grabbed it with both hands.
An intelligent reader of the game, the 22-year-old fitted the profile for Howe. With three goals, he played a crucial role at both ends of the pitch as the Cherries notched up notable victories over the likes of Stoke City, Leicester City and, most memorably, Liverpool, before the turn of the year.
Chelsea’s decision to recall Ake was undoubtedly a huge blow to Bournemouth and Howe, who was determined to land the versatile defender that summer.
In the quest for regular football, the former Watford loanee was happy to return to the south coast on a permanent basis and he has since gone from strength to strength.
Whether in partnership with Simon Francis or Steve Cook, Ake has shown leadership qualities. His positional sense and composure on the ball set him apart and he is one of the first names on the team-sheet. Ake’s dominance in the air is another attribute Bournemouth have sorely needed.
Much has been made of Chelsea’s controversial approach to loaning out players, and Ake is a pertinent example.
In his five-year spell at the west London club, he made the grand total of 17 appearances in all competitions.
During that time, he was farmed out on three separate occasions and even after being recalled from Bournemouth in January, he was used sparingly by manager Antonio Conte, with three of his five outings coming in the FA Cup.
By selling Ake to the Cherries, Chelsea have made a handsome profit (just as they have on countless others). Nonetheless, the standard of his performances for the Dorset outfit this season mean his value is set to soar, particularly in such an inflated market.
Clearly, Conte felt Ake was dispensable and once Bournemouth had met the club’s valuation, the Italian had no hesitation in sanctioning his departure.
But, with so few appearances in a Chelsea shirt, was Ake really given enough opportunities to show he could cement his place in the Blues’ defence?
Eyebrows were raised when Bournemouth bid £20 million for the player, but he has not been weighed down by the price-tag. A model professional on and off the pitch, Ake is fast becoming a cult figure.
His performance against Huddersfield at the Vitality Stadium can only be described as immense; repelling everything the visitors threw his way. Conte does not seem like the type of character who is prone to feelings of regret.
That said, Chelsea’s loss has most definitely been Bournemouth’s gain.