Tiémoué Bakayoko’s renaissance at AC Milan has been one of the feel-good Chelsea Loan Army stories of the season.
The young midfielder arrived at Stamford Bridge 18 months ago with large expectations and an even larger transfer fee, but nothing went according to plan afterwards. He was pushed into action too soon — both in terms of physical fitness and in terms of not getting a season to serve as Nemanja Matić’s deputy — and once things started going downhill, it just kept spiraling to rock bottom. A brief resurgence at the end of the season gave a bit new hope, but the sacking of Antonio Conte, who was probably the last true believer in Bakayoko at Cobham, meant that Chelsea set to the task of finding a new club for him.
That new club turned out to be AC Milan — on loan with an option to buy — and while that started just about as badly as his worst days at Chelsea, he’s kept working hard, took his advantage of his chances, and has become not only a key player for the club, but one of the better midfielders in Serie A.
Unsurprisingly, he’s hoping that his stay continues beyond just this season.
“Staying at Milan is my dream, the thought is fixated on my mind, but I have a contract with Chelsea. [So] I just want to finish the season in fourth place and then we’ll take care of it.”
The fourth place finish is important as it would qualify Milan for the Champions League, which is apparently a minimum requirement that was set for the Rossoneri to activate the €35m buyout clause.
“I heard what [Leonardo] said [about the buyout], but I’m not in a position to talk about it. It’s a subject that concerns Milan and Chelsea.”
Finishing fourth would also be helpful in easing the periodic pressure on head coach Gennaro Gattuso, with whom Bakayoko has developed a “perfect” relationship despite the harsh public criticism of the early season.
“After those words I was not well and I wasn’t happy… I felt challenged in what is my position on the pitch. [But] I know myself and I know what my qualities are: I was convinced that by training hard, the satisfactions would come.
“I try to give everything to the team and the fans, doing things by putting 100% because I have a big heart. It’s important when the coach thinks you’re a leader.
“For me [Gattuso] is the ‘boss’, a great person who’s helped me a lot: in the first 2-3 months when everything was not alright, we talked every day, but now there is no need for that because we understand one another with a look. Our relationship is perfect.”
Bakayoko’s relationship with Conte was pretty good, too, and while there’s a narrative out there that he was one of the biggest culprits for why Conte’s second season turned so sour at Chelsea, he says their relationship was always good and respectful.
“[My relationship with Conte was] Very good. He behaved with me like a father: many in England criticized because obviously they didn’t like me, but he always let me play, he defended me and gave me confidence. I have a lot of respect for him.”
It’s taken a while, but Bakayoko finally looks to be consistently repaying the faith his coaches have been placing in him. With fourth place Milan facing a huge test today away to fifth place Roma (the gap is currently just one point), the season is far from over however.
“Things are [now] going the way I wanted [...] Everything is positive, but we must be concentrated until the end.”
Good luck, Timmy Bakayoko! May you never give the ball away, just like the song says.