Patrick van Aanholt has spoken about how close he came to quitting football after being forced out on loan during his time at Chelsea. The Dutchman moved to Stamford Bridge from PSV Eindhoven in 2007 and made the jump up to the senior squad two years later, aged just 19.
However, Van Aanholt only made nine appearances for the first team in his seven years with the Blues and instead had loan spells at Coventry City, Newcastle, Leicester, Wigan and Vitesse.
The left-back moved to Sunderland permanently in 2014 before making a £14million switch to Crystal Palace in 2017, where he has established himself as a key member of Roy Hodgson’s side.
Van Aanholt is now regarded as one of the most exciting defenders in the Premier League, but the 29-year-old almost packed football in completely after a torrid experience of Chelsea’s loan system.
The full-back cut a dismal spell at Wigan short after just six months in 2011, having been frozen out by manager Robert Martinez at the DW Stadium, and completed a miserable campaign at Vitesse in Holland.
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Chelsea have traditionally used the Dutch club as a finishing school for their young talent, dispatching a host of players on temporary deals despite no formal agreement existing between the two sides.
And Van Aanholt found himself powerless to argue when the Blues decided he should have another season on loan at the GelreDome.
Speaking to The Athletic, he said: “Michael Emenalo was the technical director. I spoke to him a couple of times. I shouted at him!
“When my loan at Wigan was ended, I had an agreement to go to FC Twente, who were top of the Dutch league. Steve McClaren was manager and I wanted to play for him. He wanted me so badly, so I thought ‘Cool!’ But Michael called me and told me I had to go to Vitesse.
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“I said, ‘No, I don’t want to go to Vitesse; I want to go to FC Twente.’ He said, ‘No, you have to go to Vitesse.’ I accepted it but then I got there and I didn’t play.
“I called Michael up and said, ‘Listen, I had to come to Vitesse because of you and now you are going to make me play.’ He said he would call the manager but it did not work in the end.
“After that, my head was gone. I had problems on and off the pitch. There were loads of family problems at the time. It was all getting too much for me. But if I feel down, I am not a person who likes to talk. I keep it all inside me until it blows up and then… big problems. I have become more open but there are not straight lines in football and some people cannot handle it.”
Van Aanholt revealed that it was only through the intervention of his wife and his agent that he didn’t throw in the towel completely.
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He said: “I just thought, ‘What is wrong with me?’ It was a year without playing and I thought, ‘What club is going to want me after this?’ I was ready to finish my career and stop.
“I told my wife (Linsey), ‘I don’t want to play anymore. I’ll stop.’ She was like, ‘No! You are good enough. Another team will come. But it is your decision, so if you want to stop, OK.’
“Then my agent called me and the two of them together said to me, ‘Don’t stop. Carry on.’ After that, Vitesse said they wanted me back because they had a new manager. I was thinking, ‘I don’t want to come here ever again.’
“I hadn’t played for six months, so what am I going to do there? I was on holiday, feeling hopeless and ready to finish. Stop my career.”
Van Aanholt did end up making the move and managed to establish himself in the starting XI under new boss Fred Rutten.
That signalled the start of his resurgence and earned him a permanent transfer away from Stamford Bridge and up to Sunderland a year later where his career really took off.
Nowadays Chelsea are working hard to eradicate their reputation as a club that hoards then neglects youth talent, with a host of youngsters being given a chance in the senior squad this season.
While this may have only come about because of their recent transfer ban, the progression of Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Reece James, Fikayo Tomori and Billy Gilmour suggests things are much different to when Van Aanholt was on the Blues’ books.
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