Chelsea is once again heavily linked with a former player, this time Nathan Ake. But exactly why is it Chelsea is so keen to let go of players, only to re-sign them years later with the player at the peak of their career.
Chelsea is currently in talks to sign former defender Nathan Ake from Manchester City.
Re-signing former players is nothing new for the London club. No less than four players have rejoined Chelsea in the last eight years, Ake would make it five.
Ake, 27, has never truly cemented his position at the Eithad in a side that won the Premier League twice and finished runners-up in the Champions League final, losing to his former side Chelsea, after joining City in 2020. Ake has featured in just 24 league games during his two-year stay at the Etihad, competing with the likes of Ruben Dias, John Stones, and Aymeric Laporte for a starting berth.
But why is it Chelsea is so happy to let these stars go only to re-sign them just a few seasons later?
One thing these players all have in common is they were deemed surplus to requirements at the time of leaving the club, a hasty decision it would seem with some of their former stars returning just years later.
Ake’s return to Stamford Bridge which could be announced in the coming few days left Chelsea in 2017, having played just 17 times for the club in all competitions at the age of 22. Another player who would fall under Chelsea’s notoriously enormous number of outgoing young loan players during his first spell at the club was kept out of the side by the likes of stalwarts John Terry, Gary Cahill, and David Luiz, as he struggled to get a foothold on a starting role.
Watford, Reading, and Bournemouth all provided a temporary escape from Stamford Bridge in search of first-team football for the Dutch star, but it was Bournemouth where his successful loan spell would transcend into a permanent move for a sum of £20 million, a then club-record fee for the South coast side.
Since then Ake has won two league titles, the EFL Cup, and has a total of 168 league games under his belt since his Chelsea departure five years ago.
What will Ake bring to Chelsea?
The versatile defender who can play either at centre-back or at left-back will fill the void left by the exits of Antonio Rudiger and Anders Christiansen, who both respectively left for the La Liga after their contracts expired at the end of last season.
A good range of passing and reads the game well, often leading to comparisons of former Dutch legend and one-time Chelsea all-rounder Ruud Gullit, Ake is sure to be a welcomed signing by head coach Thomas Tuchel as he looks to bolster his back line.
A fee of around £45 million is expected to be paid by the West London outfit, £25 million more than when first let go to Bournemouth just five years ago.
It was 9 years ago that under Nemanja Matic, under then-coach Jose Mourinho (Coincidentally also in his second spell at the club) would be bought back to the ‘Bridge’. The midfielder was bought into the club originally back in 2009 from Slovakian side VSS Kosice for a moderate £1.5 million.
Matic would only make 2 league appearances in the league for Chelsea in his first spell, a loan move to Eredivisie side Vitesse, a club nicknamed ‘Chelsea B’ due to the number of players sent on loan from London to the Dutch side. No less than a staggering 29 players have crossed The North Sea to the Netherlands whilst under contract at Chelsea.
Rather than send Matic out on loan for a further year, this time to gain some experience in English football, the midfielder would be viewed as surplus to requirements under manager André Villas-Boas in the 2011-12 season, a move to Benfica as part of the cash plus a player move for David Luiz.
By this time having converted from a playmaker to the combative defensive midfielder we know of today, the Serbian international would go on to play 99 times in all competitions for As Águias (The Eagles), which included losing to Chelsea in the 2012-13 Europa League final.
Matic would re-join Chelsea in the January transfer window of 2014, just three years after leaving for Portugal, signing for £21 million. Under then-manager Jose Mourinho, the 6ft 4 midfield mountain would again play for Mourinho at Manchester United and has recently joined him at Roma.
A far more successful spell at the club for Matic, with two Premier League titles, a place in the PFA Team of the season 2014-15, and 151 appearances in all competitions during three and a half fruitful years for the Serb. Reportedly worth around £40 million, Matic would join former manager Mourinho at Manchester United in 2017, this piece of business falling in the favor of Chelsea who made a handsome £20 million profit.
It didn’t take long before Romelu Lukaku’s second spell at the club started turning sour. A club-record fee of £97.5 million from Inter Milan, re-signing the frontman after leaving for Everton in 2014. Lukaku’s return to Chelsea was supposed to be the missing piece to Tuchel’s side who had just won the Champions League, but instead ended in a failed campaign for both player and club.
By mid-season, the Belgian was making hints of a return to former club Inter Milan who he left for London in the summer of the previous. In another case of the Chelsea no.9 curse, Lukaku would end the season scoring just 8 league goals, his worse goal return since leaving the Blues the first time around. Inter Milan would come calling at the start of this season’s transfer window, re-signing the forward who left Italy just ten months ago on a season-long loan.
The fit seemed perfect for every party, a lethal goalscorer, a strong forward who could lead the line similar to club legend Didier Drogba, but it never seemed to click for the 29-year-old who probably never should have been allowed to leave from the start.
Mourinho never fancied the big striker in the Belgian’s first spell at the club who instead opted to loan out the striker with very successful loan spells at West Bromwich Albion and Everton, scoring 32 goals across both loan spells in the Premier League should have alerted Chelsea they had a star striker already at the club, but instead the Blues would opt for a new forward in Diego Costa from Atletico Madrid in the summer of 2014, leaving Lukaku to find a new club. Signing permanently for Everton 2014 for £28 million, Lukaku would leave Stamford Bridge having failed to score in 15 club appearances.
Lukaku’s second transfer to Chelsea must go down as the worse piece of transfer business in the Premier League considering the expectations and vast sum of money involved.
Next to make a return to Stamford Bridge was the Brazilian David Luiz, Costing £60 million across two transfers. Luiz would play 7 seasons in total for Chelsea in between a two-year spell at Paris St Germain.
Sold by Mourinho in 2014, but re-signed by Antonio Conte in 2016 the at times erratic defender would become a fan favourite, helping Chelsea to six prizes during his two spell association with the club, winning the Premier League, FA Cup (Twice), Champions Leauge and Europa League (Twice). David Luiz would eventually leave for Arsenal in 2019, under the management of former teammate and then manager Frank Lampard.
One homecoming that everyone associated with Chelsea can look fondly back on is the return of Didier Drogba.
The big-game player would cement himself as an all-time club legend, winning no less than 14 trophies during his 9-year association with the West London club.
Undoubtedly his greatest feat in a Chelsea shirt came in the 2012 Champions League final. Scoring a late equalizer before scoring the decisive spot-kick against Bayern Munich in the German’s home of the Allianz Arena. The first time Chelsea had ever won Europe’s most coveted prize.
A fitting end to Drogba’s Chelsea career, or so was thought. A return in 2014-15 saw the Ivory Coast international feature 40 times in all competitions, helping the Blues and Drogba to another league and cup double.
The nature of Chelsea’s buying back ex-players is not a new thing that has occurred since the Roman Abramovich era. No, back in 1997 the club made Graeme Le Saux the most expensive defender in English football at the time after re-signing the left-back from Blackburn Rovers, who had left for Ewood Park four years previous.
Avoiding the same mistakes
Now every club has made the mistake of selling a future star in the making or an underperforming player, only to then shine bright at their next venture, but in Chelsea’s unfortunate case not one but two of the world’s current outstanding players are on that list, in Mohamed Salah and Kevin De Bruyne.
Salah would leave Stamford Bridge in 2016, after making just 19 appearances for the Blues in his short two uninspiring years at the club, which included two loan spells in Serie A, but to be fair to Chelsea and then manager Mourinho, not even they could have foreseen the transformation Salah has undertaken during his career-defining 5 years so far at Liverpool.
The same can be said for Kevin De Bruyne, despite the Belgian’s obvious talents from a young age, no one could have seen the rise to stardom De Bruyne’s path took which has seen him stake claim to arguably the greatest midfielder in Premier League history.
Making just 9 outings in total for Chelsea and again under the guidance of Mourinho, the midfielder would be sold for a tidy profit, selling to German club Werder Bremen. However, there will always be a regret hanging over the club about what could have been had the club kept the midfielder.
People go to the bank when they want a loan, football clubs go to Chelsea.
Last season Chelsea had no less than 21 players out on loan, many of whom are young talents that cannot currently find a pathway into the first team at Stamford Bridge.
Chelsea won’t want to make previous mistakes by selling another future star in the making such as Kevin De Bruyne, Mo Salah, or Declan Rice. With last season’s stars Armando Broja, Levi Colwill, Connor Gallagher & Ian Maatsen to name but just a few, all who played regular first-team football away from Stamford Bridge last season, and will be hungry for more of the same this up-and-coming season, and could be tempted away from West London should the opportunity not arise.
With Chelsea under a new regime could this be the time we finally see the academy stars finally given a chance in the first team?