In Michy Batshuayi’s season-and-a-half at Chelsea he scored 14 goals for the senior team in all competitions. Seven of those came as a substitute.
Divide A by B, move the decimal point over by two places and that gives us ... 50 per cent of Michy’s goals came as a substitute. That’s a pretty stout effort for a player who often went long spells without playing the full ninety, or sometimes playing at all. How did he stay sharp?
He cheated. More precisely, he tells Belgium sports outlet Onze, he broke the rules.
“The club rule was that you couldn’t do it, but me, I played futsal... Even the other players asked me: ‘Hey, you’re playing well, what are you doing to be so good?’ And I didn’t tell them anything, it was on the side. There, I’ve just confessed, it’s the first time I’ve told anyone.”
(We can’t find any video of Michy playing futsal, but we did find a video with a little bit of the skill he might have honed indoors.)
Bats seems happy-go-lucky on social media, but as a youth he was a dedicated rule-breaker, a real handful, the “Belgian Balotelli” as some called him, and not in a complimentary way. At 14, Anderlecht’s academy gave him the sack. When he joined Standard de Liège’s academy, he pushed the limits so often they would have binned him too. Only his obvious talent saved him.
“Many’s the time they wanted to fire me too. I got punished a lot over there. By the end, they just told me: ‘We’re run out of ways to discipline you to make you get it.’ I was headstrong, a real handful.”
We’re not exaggerating and neither is he. Most kids call their parents and celebrate when they sign their first pro contract. Michy? All he could think of was that they couldn’t give him the sack.
“They told me: ‘You don’t have to go to school anymore, you’ll be with Standard until 2015.’ My first reaction was just awful. I said: ‘What’s that mean? That I can’t be fired anymore?’ ‘No, you’re good.’
That was my big concern. Normally, when you sign a pro contract you’re supposed to be happy, you’re supposed to call your parents to break the big news. Nope, not me. I just wanted to know if they could still fire me. I asked them over and over: ‘You’re sure? I can’t be fired anymore? It’s over and done with?’”
Michy may have grown up over the years but that rebellious streak is still in there. And it emerged again when he wasn’t getting playing time at Chelsea. He was worried he would lose his form if he didn’t do something about it.
“If I didn’t play futsal I’d die. It’s impossible to come in like I did without doing something extra on the side. It’s impossible because by the end of the game your back hurts, you can’t run anymore, you completely lose your touch.”
And so, club rules or no club rules, Michy made a point of going home to Belgium and wearing himself out playing futsal.
“When I went back to Belgium, I killed myself playing futsal for an hour or two hours solid. I had to. It makes me feel better, it frees me up, helps my touch, my goal-scoring instincts, and above all it’s the pleasure of playing with my friends. Mind you, these aren’t nobodies, it was futsal with good players, really good ones. I’ll probably do it on off days for the rest of my life. Because I really need it.”
Well, the cat’s out of the bag now, Michy! When (not ‘if’, but ‘when’) he comes back to Chelsea, there might have to be a negotiation. But when you consider how he hit the ground running in Dortmund (he’s now on 8 goals in 12 games) and how efficient he was as a sub in England... maybe, just maybe, maybe there might be a little softening in one particular club rule.
And if not... well, that rebel is still in there!