The Impressive Rise of Nathan Aké

Manchester City’s top-class defender Nathan Aké celebrated his 29th birthday on 18 February, 2024. His long-lasting impressive form with The Citizens continues as the Dutch guardian has become one of the most consistent performers at the club, constantly proving his reliability and masterful defensive skills.

During the current campaign, Aké has already made 32 appearances in all competitions for City, 22 of which from the starting line-up. The 2023/24 season is Aké’s fourth with The Citizens, and he has come a long way to reach the current highs with the reigning Premier League and Champions League winners.

Chelsea: Where It All Started

Nathan Aké’s Premier League journey began in the 2012/13 season at Chelsea, where he showcased his abilities as a versatile defender capable of playing across the backline. Due to his composure with the ball, a talented Dutchman was also occasionally used as a defensive midfielder on the pitch.

Despite displaying high potential, Aké struggled to find regular playing time with The Blues due to intense competition for a starting place in Chelsea’s squad. During his five-season stint at Chelsea, he was sent on loans for development to clubs, such as Reading, Watford and Bournemouth, as a result making only a total of 17 appearances with the Blues. However, it was his move to Bournemouth that permitted Aké to showcase his class truly.

Bournemouth: A Turning Point 

Aké’s first move to Bournemouth occurred as part of the loan deal with Chelsea in the 2016/17 season. In his first 12 appearances for The Cherries, the Dutchman primarily played as a centre-back. Yet, he managed to score three goals, including a game-winner in a thrilling Premier League match against Liverpool on 4 December, 2016.

After witnessing the impressive performances from Aké in a Cherries shirt, Bournemouth went on to acquire a talented defender from Chelsea for a club-record fee of 20 million pounds in the next season. The Dutchman himself was happy about the transfer, expressing his motivation to improve as much as he could and show his best football to his new club’s fans.

Thanks to Aké’s defensive solidity in the Bournemouth backline in the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons, The Cherries managed to stay alive in the Premier League, avoiding relegation to the Championship. The Dutchman played as a starter in all 38 Premier League matches for two seasons in a row, serving as the heart of the Bournemouth defence. In the 2017/18 season, he was voted as the Supporters’ Player of the Season. 

During the 2019/20 campaign, Aké continued leading Bournemouth’s defence and displaying high-quality defensive abilities, but it was not enough to help The Cherries survive in top-tier English football, and Bournemouth was relegated to the Championship at the end of the season.

During his time with the Cherries, Aké emerged as one of the Premier League’s most reliable defenders, being known for his intelligent defensive positioning and ability to read the game. His performances gathered attention from various top-flight clubs, eventually leading to a high-profile transfer to Manchester City.

Manchester City: The Peak

Aké was signed by Manchester City on a five-year deal for 41 million pounds in early August 2020. The Dutchman’s first season with the Citizens was uneven as he had to deal with a hamstring injury for the majority of the campaign. Aké’s injuries left him out of the City’s squad in 23 matches of the 2020/21 season.

Aké’s playing time increased in the following season, as he slowly gained back his form after suffering from disturbing injuries. He made more than twice as many appearances for City as in his previous season but did not quite secure his spot in a starting eleven, as defenders like Ruben Dias and Aymeric Laporte were prioritized for big-stage games by the manager Pep Guardiola.

Despite the challenging adaptation period in his first two seasons for The Citizens, Aké came back stronger than ever and became fundamental for the City’s successes. He emphasized the significant role played by Pep Guardiola in his continuous efforts to improve his game. In his interview with Sky Sports about his initial experience at Man City, Aké shared:

“Guardiola’s been massive for me. Having had my first season that wasn’t great in terms of injuries and playing time and not playing my best when I was playing, he always kept that faith in me. He always spoke to me and told me, ‘Don’t worry, keep going, the chances will come’. The second season gave me the confidence to push on and from there, I started to gain more confidence, to learn more from him and to understand what he wants more.”

Aké’s contribution to Man City’s 2022/23 Premier League winning campaign was similarly massive. In his 26 Premier League appearances, Aké averaged 27.4 successful forward passes per 90 minutes – more than any Premier League player –  which highlights his unique passing skills and understanding of the game. Furthermore, he won more duels than any other City player and was the fourth-highest-ranked defender for successful passes made in 90 minutes (72.9) in the Premier League. At the end of the campaign, Aké made it into the Etihad Player of the Season final three shortlist, finishing only behind winner Erling Haaland and runner-up Kevin De Bruyne.
When asked by Sky Sports about Aké’s importance to Manchester City and increased playing time, Pep Guardiola responded:
“These players play good because when they were not playing, they were the more generous, empathetic and the most committed. When this happens you don’t have regrets, you are prepared because you were preparing and not finding excuses. The karma, or whatever you want to say, it works. That’s why he deserves to play because he is an exceptional defender. He is incredible in the set pieces, his attention in what we need in the process is really good in the short spaces. That is why he is playing.”
Nathan Aké’s outstanding form continues in the current 2023/24 campaign. He has repeatedly proven to be a big-game player. Two of his five goal contributions this season have come in key matches against Liverpool (an assist) and Tottenham (a goal). His game-winning goal in the fourth round of the FA Cup against Tottenham is recorded as Man City’s first-ever at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
So far, Aké has won eight trophies with The Citizens, including three Premier League titles, one Champions League, a Club World Cup, a UEFA Super Cup, one FA Cup, and a Carabao Cup.

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