Chelsea defender Nathan Ake is targeting a regular first-team berth under Antonio Conte following his recent return to Stamford Bridge. The Dutch U21 international was officially recalled by his parent club on Sunday (8 January) after the Blues opted to activate the January recall option in his season-long loan agreement with Premier League rivals Bournemouth.
Having earned Young Player of the Year honours during a similar spell at Watford last term, Ake joined the Cherries in June but initially faced a battle to secure regular football and did not make his first league start under Eddie Howe until November. He marked that appearance by notching the only goal of the game against Stoke City and later capitalised on an error from Loris Karius to net a dramatic stoppage-time winner during December's remarkable comeback victory over title contenders Liverpool.
The 21-year-old made a total of 12 appearances for Bournemouth and Eddie Howe described his departure as a "huge blow" that would stretch the club's defensive resources. Speaking on his recall in a final interview with www.afcb.co.uk, Ake insisted that he had developed considerably as a player during his seven-month stint at the Vitality Stadium.
"I really enjoyed it," he said. "From the first day I joined I was made to feel part of the group. Everyone took me in and welcomed me and as a result both myself and partner settled quickly. Over the six months I feel I have developed as a player, both on and off the pitch. To start with I wasn't playing too much, but I dealt with that mentally, kept going and was happy when I got my chance. I was able to learn a lot from the manager. He spoke to me a lot about how I could improve and I picked up a lot of little ideas and different ways of thinking.
"Of course the Liverpool game was the standout moment. It was a crazy game and to score the winning goal was an amazing feeling. It's something that I'll remember for the longest time. That was not the only good memory. We also had some other good games where we kept clean sheets which were great and other games which I will remember for the wrong reasons. The ambition now is to continue to improve and break into the team at Chelsea. It's a great team and the manager there has given me a lot of confidence, so it's something I'm looking forward to."
Conte addressed the subject of Ake's return following the 4-1 FA Cup third round victory over Peterborough United, revealing that he recalled the player because he feels he is "showing that he's ready to stay in the squad of Chelsea".
Waxing lyrical regarding his versatility, the Italian added: "Ake gives me an important option because we are playing with three central defenders. He can play on the left and in the middle. It's important to see in training sessions if he can also play wing-back."