The versatile defender is back among the ranks of the Maroons after a year out on loan in his country of birth.
When a player departs a club on a temporary basis, there’s a bit of unknown about his future whether he still has a place in the first team upon his return. There’s even more uncertainty knowing it’s a different manager in charge from the one the player left behind.
These were the realities for Ola Aina who left Torino during the 20202-21 season and headed to Fulham on loan.
The Chelsea academy graduate had a rather fruitful spell at Craven Cottage, racking up 31 Premier League appearances and scoring two goals, one of which was voted the best goal for the month of November. Things however didn’t end well with Fulham finishing in 18th place and returning back to the Championship.
Back in Italy, Torino, in Aina’s absence had started the campaign with Marco Gianpaolo, but he lasted just 164 days before Davide Nicola took charge from January 2021 until the end of the campaign.
A new manager in Ivan Juric was appointed on July 1 and the Croatian had Aina in his plans with the Nigeria international playing 120 minutes of the season-opening Coppa Italia first round against Cremonese which ended in a 4-1 shootout victory.
Aina has gone on to play all but one of the 10 Serie A matches so far this season, starting seven of them and playing more than 60 minutes on six occasions. This is definitely a sign that he is still sought after by the Piedmont outfit and he’s enjoying every minute of it.
“It’s been ok, it’s been a good season so far for everyone. We started off pretty well and I’ve been enjoying my time, my football. So, it feels good,” he told Pulse in an exclusive interview.
When Aina first arrived Torino on loan from Chelsea in 2018, the Maroons hit top gear by finishing in seventh spot and booked a place in the Europa League qualifiers for the 2019-20 season. Aina of course played his part in that fine campaign with one goal and three assists in 2,158 minutes of Serie A football, all of which was enough to see his move to the Stadio Olimpico made permanent, bringing an end to a 12-year association with Chelsea.
The 2019-20 season was however no good for Torino as they finished in 16th place, just five points shy of the relegation zone. Dropping one spot further down the following season by one point wasn’t any better.
Aina attributes the changes in manager unsettling the players, thus affecting form. He however expects a better finish this time around.
“The expectation for this season is obviously to finish better than last season, that’s normal and I just think it’s little things, maybe the change of manager. Everyone was not settled,” the 25-year-old continued.
“Maybe this is why the form of the previous seasons have gone that way, but we’ve started well this season, so it’s all good right now.”
Aina has now been in Italy for three years and for some it can be called a new home. The Southwark-born player already holds an English and Nigerian passport, but doesn’t see Italy as a third home when asked if it was, but rather a place of work which he appreciates.
“For me I see it as a place of work. It’s a lovely place,” he said. “I love the city [Turin], the culture, I love the Italian culture and they’ve made me feel very welcome and comfortable there. So, I do feel comfortable in Italy, but to say it’s a third home I think is a bit of a stretch.”
On whether a return to England is possible or another move within Italy, Aina said: “You never know. You never know what the future holds, so we just have to wait and see.”
Torino currently sit in 13th place with three wins. They might have lost five times out of 10 games, but they can be forgiven that it was against the likes of fiercer and stronger sides in Juventus, Napoli and AC Milan, of which it all ended in narrow 1-0 losses. They can however be proud of taking points against the likes of Genoa, Lazio, Sassuolo and the newly-promoted Venezia and Salernitana.
With matches to come against the likes of Sampdoria, Spezia, Udinese, Empoli, Cagliari and Hellas Verona, Torino have a real chance of making it back into the top half of the log. This they can achieve with good players in their ranks that include Ricardo Rodriguez, Koffi Djidji, Wilfried Singo, Dennis Praet, Andrea Belotti, Simone Zaza and of course, Aina himself.
Kunle is an avid writer with interest in topics on sports, politics, health, lifestyle and more. His articles have featured in Goal.com, Opera News, Vanguard News and other platforms. He holds a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in International Relations and is an advocate for people living with Hydrocephalus and other neurological conditions.
Follow him on Twitter: @kfayiga
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