When Nathan Ake arrived at the Etihad for £41million in August 2020, a first-team spot was in touching distance.
Despite storming to a fourth Premier League crown in 2019-20, Manchester City were fully experimenting in defence following the exit of club captain and star defender Vincent Kompany the previous summer.
Injuries to John Stones and Aymeric Laporte limited the pair to fewer than 20 Premier League starts each, which left Nicolas Otamendi as the most used central defender in Pep Guardiola’s squad at the end of the season.
Nathan Ake joined Man City for £41m in 2020 after suffering relegation with Bournemouth
The club were eager to find a long-term replacement for Vincent Kompany who left in 2019
Due to his flattering price tag, Ake landed in Manchester with a golden chance to cement himself as a first-team regular, but the arrival of Ruben Dias a month later threw a spanner in the works.
The Portuguese centre-half went on to stun the Premier League with resolute defending and shrewd leadership, claiming the FWA Footballer of the Year at the end of his debut season in 2020-21.
Meanwhile, Ake sustained a nasty hamstring tear and missed 19 matches through injury, starting just nine of his 17 first-team call-ups.
Ruben Dias won the FWA Footballer of the Year in 2020-21 and helped Man City storm the title
John Stones also enjoyed a career-best campaign at the Etihad by developing a winning partnership with Dias and earning Guardiola’s trust to climb up the pecking order.
As a result, despite returning to full fitness in 2021-22, the Dutch defender endured a similar appearance total, starting just 10 league matches all season.
At times, Guardiola even snubbed Ake in favour of defensive-midfielder Fernandinho at the back.
Costing Man City just shy of £2.2m per Premier League start, the Dutchman has developed into one of the club’s least successful signings of the Sheikh Mansour era – and thus could be on his way out this summer.
Ex-Cherries defender Ake has only managed 19 Premier League starts since joining Man City
Although Chelsea’s ambitious swoop for Raheem Sterling is dominating the headlines, Ake has also been linked with a move to Stamford Bridge, as Thomas Tuchel looks to bolster his much-changed defence ahead of next season.
New owner Todd Boehly reportedly requested a valuation for the 27-year-old, who is on the Blues’ wish list of potential defensive signings.
Ake made his Premier League debut at Chelsea as a 17-year-old in 2012, before undertaking loan spells at Reading, Watford and Bournemouth.
Tuchel previously expressed interest in Ake during his time at Borussia Dortmund, as the defender piqued the curiosity of several managers across Europe.
Despite his slightly undersized sub-6ft frame, the Holland international fits the mould of a modern day centre-back, possessing agility, recovery speed and confidence in possession.
Chelsea have reportedly expressed interest in Manchester City duo Raheem Sterling and Ake
The Dutchman would replace ex-Chelsea star Antonio Rudiger who has left for Real Madrid
Chelsea’s top priority in the transfer window this summer is replacing star defender Antonio Rudiger, who agreed terms with Real Madrid on a free transfer in June.
The German international consistently operated on the left of Tuchel’s back three and clinched a spot alongside Virgil van Dijk in the 2021-22 PFA Premier League Team of the Year.
As a natural left-footer with prior experience at the club, Ake would slot into the system seamlessly at Stamford Bridge, provided Tuchel continues to operate with a back three structure.
Although he had more first-team opportunities at Bournemouth and Watford, the Man City defender has prospered from training under the expertise of Guardiola since 2020.
The well-respected Spaniard is renowned for developing players and inspiring confidence in them, notably with Chelsea transfer target Sterling and, more recently, Three Lions star Phil Foden.
Ake has benefitted from the coaching and guidance of Man City’s head coach Pep Guardiola
Shortly after his arrival in 2020, Ake admitted he had already improved under Guardiola.
‘That’s one of the reasons I came to work under Pep,’ he told the club website.
‘I’ve seen in the first few months, the way he works with players, he shows what we can improve and works with me. I am learning.
‘That’s a plus for me. It’s one of the reasons I came, and I see myself improving already. Hopefully there’s more to come.
‘It’s a good step up for me, to improve myself and learn from one of best managers in world.’
Were Ake to complete a switch to Stamford Bridge, he would not only learn from another world-class manager in Tuchel, but would also rub shoulders with veteran and star defender Thiago Silva.
Centre-back Thiago Silva, 37, arrived in Stamford Bridge on a free transfer from PSG in 2020
Were Ake to move to Chelsea, he would learn from both Silva and top coach Thomas Tuchel
The Brazilian, like Ake, does not hold the same monstrous frame as a Rudiger or a Van Dijk but is still widely-regarded as one of Europe’s best defenders, even at the age of 37.
Tuchel could entrust Silva as a mentor to tap into the raw potential Ake showed at Watford and Bournemouth before joining City.
Ultimately, with the 2022 World Cup in Qatar on the horizon, a chance to rediscover regular first-team football must be at the top of Ake’s priorities next season.
The Dutchman has almost become a victim of versality under Guardiola, developing into a utility player to plug gaps at left-back and defensive midfield on occasion.
Ake was labelled ‘reliable’ by the Man City boss in April, before featuring at left-back during their 3-0 win against Brighton.
‘He is so reliable,’ he told the club website. ‘Especially when you behave in your life like he does, always you will play good.
He may be seen as ‘reliable’ at Man City but the Dutchman has quickly become a bit-part player
‘In the bad phases he is always helping. When he doesn’t get the minutes he deserves and then gets the minutes, he’s thinking about the other ones and has done well.
‘He is an exceptional person. The older I get, the more aware of this kind of behaviour I am. Your life is better when you behave like this.’
With Guardiola simply calling on him every now and then when needed, Ake has developed into a bit-part player at the Etihad and would be wise to seek new pastures in a bid for regular first-team football.