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Why Chelsea should be excited about Bakayoko’s return

A changed man, Bakayoko became a fan-favourite at AC Milan but can he make it at Chelsea at the second time of asking?

AC Milan v FC Internazionale - Serie A Photo by Emilio Andreoli/Getty Images

Last week, Tiemoue Bakayoko's brother and agent stated that the young midfielder will be staying at Chelsea after a season on loan at AC Milan, where the confirmation of his departure was greeted with sadness and sorrow by many fans.

Bakayoko arrived at Milan as a Chelsea reject coming off a pretty awful season, and things didn’t start any better in Italy. His initial performances were bad enough to be publicly lambasted by his then manager, Gennaro Gattuso, who called him a player with, "defects" and stated that he would have liked to manage other, more experienced players.

Media reactions weren’t any better.

Most people would have given up at this point but that’s not Bakayoko. He stuck in, kept trying and eventually prevailed. The resurrection and rise to the top began with back-to-back Man of the Match performances in November’s 2-1 and 1-0 wins over Genoa and Udinese, respectively.

The resurrection continued as he kept picking up Man of the Match awards and soon, even gained the trust and respect of his manager who, this time, publicly lavished praise by favorably comparing Bakayoko to the legendary Marcel Desailly.

“The biggest surprise is seeing how he has improved in reading situations during the game on. On a tactical level, I’m surprised. He completely bought into the things we showed him on video.”

“It was also nice to see the appreciation from the fans as well. With my [assistant manager Luigi] Riccio, I said that it seemed like we were watching [Marcel] Desailly, and maybe Bakayoko is a bit more technical.”

-Gennaro Gattuso

Such was Bakayoko’s dominance that during a stretch of ten games, he ended up named Man of the Match in half of them.

However, just as the positive vibes reached a crescendo, things took a turn for the worse, much much worse, and not just on the pitch, but off of it as well.

First, Bakayoko was subject to repeated racial abuse by some opposition (mostly Lazio) fans. Then, Bakayoko himself had a couple highly publicized bust-ups with Gattuso, both on-camera and off-camera. Meanwhile, Milan’s results took a turn for the worse, and they ended up finishing outside the top four and missing out on Champions League football.

What looked like a practical certainty, Milan exercising the buy-option in Bakayoko’s loan contract, was not going to happen.

This brings us to now. As mentioned at the top, Bakayoko’s priority now is to stay at Chelsea. While that might have sounded like a near impossibility under Maurizio Sarri, who loaned him out straight-away after arriving, it seems more likely now that the head coach is set to leave.

But Bakayoko also arrives back at Chelsea a different man, a changed man, a battle-hardened man. Unlike the relative ease with which he climbed the ranks in Ligue 1, getting snapped up by Monaco where he played a big role in a surprise title win and deep Champions League run, this time he has had to perform when the chips were down.

Two seasons ago, he looked clearly looked out of his depth at Chelsea, weighed down by the expectations of his transfer fee, and by having to jump in at the deep end while still unfit from an operation over the summer, thanks to an injury crisis as well as a poorly handled transfer window overall. Then the criticisms began, he was dropped from the team, and not even a late season improvement was enough to change the narrative.

But now he gets a second chance to succeed, prosper, and fulfill his potential. His season at Milan may have ended on a down note, but he had shown more than enough during the season to make us believe he can be a helpful part of a transfer-banned Chelsea next season — especially with the unknown futures of Kovačić (will we buy?), Loftus-Cheek (major injury), and possibly Jorginho (will we sell?) as well.

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