AC Milan beat Bologna 2-1 last night to maintain slim hopes of still finishing in the top-four this season — they currently trail Atalanta by 3 points and Inter Milan by 4 points with three games to go — but as far as we’re concerned, the result was secondary to all the drama that occurred in the first half between Tiémoué Bakayoko and head coach Gennaro Gattuso.
Basically, the two got involved in a heated verbal exchange after some sort of disagreement occurred regarding a substitution, with Bakayoko telling the coach to [FUN] off in full sight of the TV cameras. Gattuso had asked Bakayoko to warm up after fellow midfielder Lucas Biglia picked up an injury, but the Chelsea loanee took so long that Gattuso ended up putting on Jose Mauri instead.
Afterwards, each involved party had plenty to say.
Let’s start with Gattuso’s version of events.
“I asked Bakayoko to get ready, he took a while, so I called up Jose Mauri. [...] I waited seven or eight minutes and he hadn’t even put his shin-pads on.
“I’ve told many Coaches to get stuffed in my career, it ended there. We’ll see, it’s all about respect. The players can say anything to me, but the main thing is that they don’t lack respect for their teammates and the dressing room atmosphere. [...] Anyone can insult me on the touchline, but we’ll meet in a room eye-to-eye and see. I want to sort this out in the dressing room and talk in my language, which I cannot do on television. So we have to focus on the victory and not waste time on other issues.”
-Gennaro Gattuso; source: Football Italia
No one’s ever accused Gattuso of backing down from a fight, but as Bakayoko tells it (via his social media accounts), the facts may not be as established as Rino might claim.
“It has been several weeks since I was spoken about the press but I decided to say nothing and to continue working. On the other hand, what happened tonight the interpretation we are trying to give me oblige me to react immediately because I do not accept that I be considered as a player who refuses to enter the field when his coach asks him and who does not respect his club and his teammates.
“By starting on the bench I was ready to give myself 200% even if I only had to play 5 minutes tonight. When Lucas started to suffer on the ground, I was asked to prepare myself in case there was a change. So I prepared myself immediately and I went to warm up for 2/3 minutes maximum.
“Then I am asked to return to the bench. Everything passes I think between [minutes] 23‘ and 26’. It’s when I sit down on the bench that the coach talks to me in unexpected terms and I just repeat his words. Nothing more. [So] that things are clear, I never refused to come into play and I did not drag to go to warm up. It seems to me that the images speak for themselves. I had only one desire, to enter the field and help my teammates as I have always done and as I will do until the end of the season. Forza Milan.”
-Tiémoué Bakayoko; source: Twitter
So, Gattuso says Bakayoko took his sweet time (7-8 minutes) to get ready. Bakayoko denies this, saying the whole thing only took 2-3 minutes. As to who dropped the F-bomb first, they both claim that they were just responding to the other.
Well, let’s go to the tape! Baka says it’s all there on the tape, so maybe he’s right.
Unfortunately that’s not great quality, and most importantly it doesn’t have a time stamp so it’s not possible to tell how much time actually passes and if any cuts or edits were made — it’s the best I could find so far as most only show the very end, where Baka tells off his head coach.
But seeing that video, both versions of the story are plausible. Bakayoko does go to warm-up as instructed, though he’s not exactly swift about it. He meanders back to the bench, sits down, and maybe starts putting his stuff on, at which point Gattuso says something (his back is turned), Bakayoko responds with the insult, and that’s all we see.
In a way, it reminds me of the Kepa-Sarri “misunderstanding”, but with a bit more Italian flair and greater proximity of the protagonists. It wouldn’t surprise me if both Gattuso and Bakayoko firmly believe that their version of events is the actual truth.
So, what’s next?
As in the Kepa case, regardless of who’s right, the behaviour on the player’s part was far from professional. That’s what Milan director Leonardo made clear in his comments after the incident last night.
“What happened with Bakayoko will be discussed internally and we won’t publicise any action we’ll be taking. He dealt with a lot of issues over the last few weeks, but mistakes are mistakes and we will intervene. He has many positive elements, but anyone who makes an error has to pay for it.
“We don’t have to intervene every time and it’s true that many things have happened, but we try to resolve them in-house. All together, from Ivan Gazidis to me to Paolo Maldini and Gattuso. It can’t become a public trial.”
-Leonardo; source: Football Italia
It might be too late for this trial to stay non-public. Milan were all set to take up Bakayoko’s buy-option, but in the last few weeks, their season has come unstuck. They’ve dropped out of the top four, they lost in the cup semifinals, and Bakayoko was repeatedly racially abused to sour him on the whole idea in the first place. He was also late to training last week, which got him fined and the team sequestered, which made many players angry. Cleary, it’s not a happy situation at Milan, and it’s one that Gattuso himself may not survive at the end of the season.
One thing does seem clear, the chances of Bakayoko staying are fairly slim now.