Pep Guardiola called Ronald Koeman to wish him happy birthday - and used the conversation to plead with the Netherlands boss to take care of Nathan Ake.
Koeman, a former Barcelona team-mate of the Manchester City boss, took a phone call from Guardiola when he was celebrating his 60th birthday last Tuesday, but he reckoned the Catalan had an ulterior motive. Ake has become a regular in City's Treble-chasing team this season. Koeman said, "I got a call from my friend Pep on my birthday this week.
"Pep wished me happy birthday, but very quickly he also asked me if I could be careful with Nathan Ake because he needs him - and I can understand why.
"Nathan is the absolute example of a player who has developed himself to top level. He has done so well for himself and has become a really important player for both the Netherlands and Manchester City. I am proud of Nathan. He is so important and is such a great defender now."
Ake has played 32 games in all competitions for City this season, with many of those appearances coming at left-back. Guardiola has been short in that position following Oleksandr Zinchenko's move to Arsenal and Joao Cancelo's loan switch to Bayern Munich.
Ake, who started his career at Chelsea, joined City in the summer of 2020 after Bournemouth's relegation to the Championship. The 28-year-old struggled for minutes during his first two seasons at the Etihad - featuring just 24 times in the Premier League.
What's your opinion of Nathan Ake? Let us know in the comments below!
Yet Ake has become a senior player for Guardiola thanks to his versatility and ability on the ball. The defender, who is a centre-back by trade, has 35 senior caps for the Netherlands under his belt and previously represented the likes of Reading and Watford.
Guardiola recently told Sky Sports, "He [Ake] is an exceptional defender. He is incredible in the set-pieces, his attention to what we need in the process, he is really good in the short spaces. So that is why he is playing. It is as simple as that."
City are aiming to become the first English club since Manchester United to win the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup in the same season. They are eight points behind league leaders Arsenal with a game in hand, and they face Bayern Munich and Sheffield United in the next rounds of the Champions League and FA Cup respectively.
Holland, meanwhile, were beaten 4-0 in their opening Euro 2024 qualifier against World Cup finalists France on Friday and face minnows Gibraltar on Monday. Koeman was furious with his team’s performance in Paris despite losing half of his starting line-up with food poisoning caused by dodgy chicken curry.
Liverpool forward Cody Gakpo was one of the players taken ill. Gakpo could not train for three days and is still struggling to fully shake-off the bug.
Koeman said, "I will talk with Cody on Monday. We have to see how he feels. He needs to be 100 percent fit. Right now he is not strong enough, but he has one more day and a whole night before we need to decide if we play him."