Former Chelsea wing-back Ola Aina has told the London Weekly News how difficult it was to leave the club he joined as an under-11, writes Max Hall.
The Southwark-born Nigeria international, who is now a Serie A regular at Torino under former Watford manager Walter Mazzarri, is loving life in Italy but admits it was not easy giving up on the Blues.
“It was tough because that is all I knew, my whole life,” said the former England youth international, who spent last season on loan in Turin before making the move permanent in a €10m deal.
“It was a hard decision, but for me, just going on the season I had last season, it was right for me to do.”
Asked whether he considered trying to break in at Chelsea because of the club’s transfer ban, he said: “It would cross anyone’s mind. I thought about it but I wasn’t sure if it would be the right time for me.
“I had a lot of contact with Eddie Newton [the former player who is part of Frank Lampard’s management team but previously looked after Chelsea’s legion of on-loan players].
“I spoke with Eddie at length and in detail so we both came to sort of an agreement and he wished me all the best of luck and said if I ever needed his help, or some of the staff’s help in future, I could always knock on their door.”
In terms of his first-team opportunities at Chelsea, the Torino player said: “When Antonio [Conte] was there [as manager] I know I had a bit of a chance but I was still young and still had a lot to learn.”
“I had a good season here [in Italy] on loan so I was really happy to come back.
“They exercised their option and it was sort of a no-brainer really.”
The 22-year-old defender said he was happy to see so many of his former Chelsea youth team friends getting their chance under Frank Lampard at Stamford Bridge.
“It’s good for the young ones at the club that are actually getting their chances and actually proving themselves,” he said. “I’m really happy for them because most of them are my friends, and I’ve been friends with them for most of my life.
“I just hope they continue to do that and it just shows Chelsea do have a fantastic academy and they should believe in their young players.”
Aina played for England at every level from under-16 to under-20 before choosing to play for Nigeria, the land of his parents, in 2017.
Having turned out for the Super Eagles in the summer’s Africa Cup of Nations, Aina said he was well aware of his adopted nation’s claims on rising Chelsea star Tammy Abraham.
“I talk to him about it but I’m never the one to push someone to make a decision,” said Aina, speaking after Torino’s 1-0 defeat to Sampdoria in Genova on Sunday.
“He’s aware of it, I’m aware of it, we’ve spoken about it, joked about it, eventually it’s up to him.
“He does have a fair chance of getting into the England squad so it’s whatever he feels in his heart is right to do.
“He’s a fantastic player so I’m not surprised Nigeria and England are trying to fight for him.”