AKE: KICKING ON
Sunday's Premier League encounter against Everton at Stamford Bridge brings the curtain down on the 2012/13 season, a campaign which Nathan Ake is unlikely to forget in a hurry.
Having started the season featuring predominantly for Dermot Drummy's Under-21s, the versatile Dutchman, who can operate in either defence or midfield, spent the second half of the campaign heavily involved with the first team
After featuring in both the Premier League and FA Cup, Ake was handed his European debut in the away game against Rubin Kazan in the Europa League, before finishing the season as an unused substitute in the final of the competition against Benfica.
On his return from Amsterdam, he was then presented with the club's Young Player of the Year award, leaving him reflecting on a breakthrough period in his career.
'It feels really nice to have won the award,' he tells the official Chelsea website. 'I didn't expect it at the start of the season but when I was announced as the winner I was really happy.
'It's been a good season for me, especially being involved in the Europa League, and I have to give credit to the other players as well because they've helped me so much.
'I started the season with the Under-21s and I was training a bit with the first team as well. In December I began to get more involved with the first team and I was on the bench a few times, plus there were some games where I was in the initial squad but didn't make the bench for the match.'
Ake's big break came over the festive period, when he was introduced as a late substitute in our 1-0 Boxing Day win at Norwich City.
He recalls the moment fondly, and took great heart from Rafael Benitez's decision to send him on in order to help protect our lead.
'I was pretty nervous to be honest but it showed the manager had confidence in me,' he says.
'It was a tight game and it was only 1-0, so it was nice to know he had belief in me. It also happened against Manchester United, which was an important game, so that was good for my confidence as well.
'I started in the away game against Rubin Kazan and the manager has given me a lot of opportunities.
'It's not only about playing; just training with the first team, being involved and sitting on the bench is good for my development.'
With the 18-year-old still eligible to appear in the FA Youth Cup, Ake has combined his first-team involvement with bolstering Adi Viveash's back four in the latter stages of the competition.
After playing in the first leg of the FA Youth Cup final against Norwich City, and with the second leg coming a night before the first team squad flew out for the Europa League final, the youngster could easily have been back in action with the youngsters, but the management had other ideas.
'It was really nice. I heard after the Aston Villa game that I would be travelling but I didn't know I was going to be on the bench,' he explains. 'I was really happy when the manager told me I would be a sub, and it was an amazing experience for me.
'I was expecting to be involved in the Youth Cup, which has been a great competition for me, so to be involved in the Europa League final was a really big moment.
'For us to actually win the trophy as well made it even more enjoyable.'
Having tasted success, Ake is hungry for more, and he will be confident of taking any further opportunities which come his way.
'If you experience the big occasion it makes you want to get there again,' he says. 'Now I just want to work hard and hopefully get more chances to show what I can do.'
- The match programme for the Europa League final is on sale in the Megastore at Stamford Bridge - priced at £6.