One of the most disappointing pieces of business Chelsea have done in recent years is spending £40m last summer on Monaco midfielder Tiémoué Bakayoko. Tall, rangy, with speed and some technical ability, he looked to be a solid addition to Chelsea’s midfield, especially given his high-level success in France.
He arrived carrying a knee injury, showed an early flash of promise in his first match, playing on a bad knee against Tottenham, but never really followed-on from that, despite making 43 appearances overall. As he struggled to adapt to the speed of the English game, his confidence plummeted. Things reached a low point in early February, when he was sent off after just 30 minutes against Watford, in a game that Chelsea would go on to lose 4-1. He practically disappeared for two months after that, but did close out the season with a few decent performances, including in the FA Cup final against Manchester United.
Any hope that Bakayoko would build on those appearances were quickly dashed by Maurizio Sarri’s lack of trust, even in preseason. Bakayoko wasn’t the kind of midfielder Sarri-ball needs, so a loan-to-buy was engineered with AC Milan, which, if triggered, could see Chelsea recoup most of the sunk cost in the 24-year-old.
Milan’s first match of the season last weekend was postponed after the bridge disaster in Genoa, so Bakayoko’s first chance to play for his new team will come tonight, against, Napoli. Manager Gennaro Gattuso just might give him his debut.
“Bakayoko likes to play in a two-man midfield. I was surprised because we thought he was slower. I have to say that I was also impressed by his dynamism. He is technically gifted so he won’t just improve our physical game.”
-Gennaro Gattuso; source: AC Milan
Bakayoko has over 150 senior appearances to his name, but, really, only one full and truly successful season, his last at Monaco in 2016-17, when they won the league over PSG and reached the semifinals of the Champions League. After last year’s disappoinment, the jury is very much out on what kind of footballer he’ll turn out to be.
Here’s hoping that the Italian game suits him as well as the French game did, that he finds his confidence again, and rebuilds his career.