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'No regrets over leaving Chelsea' - Former Abraham and Mount team-mate Ali

09:00 BST 03/04/2020
Mukhtar Ali Chelsea
The former Blues academy star tells his story of how he left the Londoners to take his own unique path to the international stage

Mukhtar Ali insists he has no regrets about leaving Chelsea even though some of his former Academy team-mates have now graduated to Frank Lampard's first team.

Ali, who rejected Manchester City as a youngster, spent nine years at the Blues and was a key member of the side that won both the UEFA Youth League and the FA Youth Cup in 2016 alongside Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham.

However, despite breaking into Chelsea's Under-23s, the defensive midfielder moved to Vitesse in the summer of 2017, after an initial six-month stint with the Eredivisie outfit.

Ali struggled to secure regular game time in Netherlands, though, so last August he joined Al Nassr of Saudi Arabia, whom the 22-year-old represents at international level.

Mason and Mount, meanwhile, are now starring for Chelsea after electing to return to the club following their respective loan spells elsewhere.

Ali, though, says he is not in the least bit jealous of his former colleagues.

"To see them in Chelsea's starting line-up is a joy for everyone who was part of our youth team," he tells Goal. "I never look at the situation now and think it should have been me, because I am very happy for them.

"I am still in contact with a lot of them and they deserve to be in the first team.

"Tammy has always been a guy who just wanted to score goals and you could see that from very young, wherever he is playing.

"He was very tall throughout the academy years, so he was physically superior to everyone in his team and the opposition. He was a very good player.

"Mason was a year younger than us but he played a lot with us in the youth team and you could see his quality straight away.

"You could pass the ball to him in any position and he would control it well. He could play under pressure, he was a good combination player and he was very, very smart.

"He has a very good shot as well, so you always wanted him in positions where he could have a go and get goals. When he came in for the Youth Cup and Youth League games, he was very good."

However, the team-mate that impressed Ali most was Jay Dasilva, who is no longer at Chelsea, having joined Bristol City last summer.

"Jay was probably the most consistent player in the youth team," he reveals. "The rest of the top players you might think of were maybe good one week and not as much the next. But Jay Dasilva was good in every single game.

"I just remember looking at him and thinking he will be a world-class left-back when he is older. He is very good."

As for Ali, he's happy with how his career is now progressing.

Before the Covid-19 crisis interrupted football seasons across the globe, he had been starting regularly for Al Nassr, who sat second in the Saudi Professional League.

Ali had also helped his country's Under-23 qualify for the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, which have since been pushed back a year because of the pandemic.

Consequently, while things didn't go according to plan in Netherlands, he now feels he made the right call in leaving England.

"If I stayed at Chelsea with the Under-23s, I thought I wouldn't develop as quickly," he explains. "I didn't think I was ready for the first team, so I had to go down a different route.

"Saudi Arabia got in contact with me the year we won the Youth Cup. I was born there, so it was a natural decision to play for them, one made with my parents and my agent.

"At Vitesse, I wasn't playing. I looked at my options and thought about my international career. The best option was to move to Saudi Arabia.

"Al Nassr got in contact and they were talking with Vitesse for some time. I don't know why, but it got left until transfer deadline day.

"I was at Vitesse that day for hours and it only got finished with four minutes left of the window. But I was very happy.

"A lot of people might think I moved to Saudi Arabia for the money but that definitely wasn't the reason.

"Al Nassr on the league last year and it is a big club. As a young player at Chelsea, I always challenged for trophies. I have that will to win and Al Nassr have the same mentality.

"It is a good league, too. It's tough and there are a lot of players from Europe here. We have very good team and playing here can only help my international career. All the players who play for Saudi Arabia are here, so it makes sense for me to be here too.

"I've been doing well with the Under-23s and it will be amazing to be in Tokyo. It is a shame that it has been delayed, but it will be amazing when we get there to play against top players.

"So, I feel like I have achieved a lot already in this short time in Saudi Arabia. I definitely don't want to stop here."