In the aftermath of the previous time Chelsea managed to not defend a Premier League title just two years ago, the arrival of Michy Batshuayi was perhaps the least inconsequential remedy, even if he did cost a rather sizable sum and even if he did ultimately go on to score the goal that clinched the title. But compared to the impact made by others who joined the club that summer (Conte, Kante,
Dante David Luiz, Alonso the four big ones), Michy hardly registered.
The acquisition of the then 22-year-old striker for a near club-record fee was seen as an investment for the future. The mercurial and inimitable Diego Costa was seemingly always pushing for an exit and the club clearly rated the young Belgian very highly. Comparisons to Didier Drogba were not unheard of, premature as they obviously were. Having just scored 23 goals in 50 appearances for Marseille (another Drogba parallel!), Batshuayi arrived with a strong CV, a high transfer fee, and expectations to match (and thus control).
Despite being young and ambitious (not to mention his prior reputation for Balotelli-esque shenanigans and his constantly jovial online presence, which was easily seen as immature by many), Michy behaved like a model professional, never complaining in public and garnering solid praise from Conte (though without minutes to match). Batshuayi did bulk up over the course of the season as evidence of putting in the work at Cobham, but as far as match action was concerned, it was slim pickings.
“I was more of an observer. My competitor was a great striker, older, already a scorer in the Champions League and having participated in major competitions. So yeah, it was clear, I was watching a lot. There were high class players around me. I said to myself every day, ‘I have not set foot anywhere.’ I also said to myself: ‘If I’m here too, it’s because I have qualities, I just have to show them everyday.’ That’s it, that’s all.”
Hashtag-MinutesForMichy was common on Twitter but rare in the real world, with most of them coming in cup matches and brief (though regular) cameos at the ends of league matches. If Cesc Fabregas and Willian were the 12th and 13th men Conte relied on heavily beyond his set starting eleven, Batshuayi was probably the first of the rest who lagged far behind.
And yet, it was Batshuayi who scored the goal that clinched Chelsea’s second title in three years. As Fabregas summed it up perfectly afterwards, “This is the beauty of football, a player that didn’t play a lot, everyone thought he doesn’t count too much and then he scores the winning goal for the championship; I mean, football is f*cking unbelievable!”
It was just one goal in the grand scheme of things, yet one that meant so much, including to Michy himself.
“This goal put me well. I think it saved my season because I was really not happy with my season. We will say that this goal has rewarded all my work.
”I was happy [with the goal] but you know, what struck me the most is the people’s eyes. I saw that people no longer looked at me the same. I felt a lot of respect for me. And an attacker needs that. It did me good. I had not felt this thing for a long time.”
That confidence was obvious on the pitch as well. Michy would go on to score 3 goals in the last 2 Premier League matches and carried that form into preseason even as the striker ahead of him in the pecking order was replaced by club record-signing Álvaro Morata.
But Morata was slow to work himself into match fitness and so Batshuayi got his chance, first in the Community Shield against Arsenal, then against Burnley at home to start the season. But suddenly things were not going well. Chelsea collected three red cards in those two games while Michy failed to register much impact, if any. He was replaced in the 59th minute of the Burnley match, and was not heard of again much until January, save for a brief run that included a hat-trick in the League Cup and the winning goal against Atletico.
“Well, I said to myself, ‘there is something wrong’, quite simply. I did all I needed to start the season as a starter and most of all, I felt confident about the first games. From the first match, nightmare scenario: we take a red card and I am replaced. I said to myself, ‘By chance, it falls on me.’ Then, I do not start the second game. And from there, it became difficult until my hat-trick in the League Cup [against Nottingham Forest]. After that, there was the goal and the win against Atlético Madrid, it revived me.”
Ultimately, Michy had to move on from Chelsea, at least for now. Even when he scored and even when Morata was injured, he did not get the minutes he needed (and probably deserved), with Conte often preferring to shoot himself in the foot and play Eden Hazard as striker instead.
One could argue that Batshuayi did not fit Conte’s system to begin with (Giroud, his replacement, is a much more obvious fit), but we had seen plenty of glimpses of talent and eye for goal over the previous 18 months from the Batsman to maintain faith that he wasn’t a waste of all those millions in 2016. And sure enough, on loan at Borussia Dortmund, he’s been a revelation, with 9 goals in 13 matches scored thus far. That’s the difference confidence and trust can make.
“Yeah, it’s clear. When your teammates look at you and say: ‘Today, we count on you’, it’s a pleasure, it gives strength and confidence. The attacker needs that kind of stuff.”
Michy could be forgiven for not liking his Chelsea boss too much, but he has good things to say about him as well (as well as Morata and Costa and probably everybody else). He certainly won’t be airing any negative thoughts in public; he’s far too media-savvy for that!
“Yeah, he’s a genius for observers, for those who watch football. But we, the players, we work precisely so that everything is perfect. But, it is clear that he is very tactically strong. He does not like mistakes, tactical mistakes... Even if he is out of the field, he wants to control everything.”
The obvious question since about day 2 of his time at BVB is his future. The loan contract is until the end of the season, but the Germans have made it quite clear that they want to keep him, preferably on a transfer rather than just another loan. New teammate Marco Reus has joined that chorus recently, but Michy’s maintaining the professional facade here as well.
“I read [Reus’s] statements. They are necessarily fun from such a great player. [And] my desire is to play”
“You know, the management has always been very clear in stressing the importance that I could have for this club. We will see what the future will be like.”
-Michy Batshuayi; Source: Onze Mondial via Google Translate
Previous reports made it clear that Chelsea do not want to sell. Batshuayi’s contract runs through 2021, so there is no need to sell either. A summer of change is ahead of us, and it feels like anything could happen, but surely, Michy’s (long-term) future still lies at Stamford Bridge.