As Chelsea close in on £35m Tiemoue Bakayoko, we look at how Claude Makelele helped his career and where he’d fit at Stamford Bridge.
The Monaco midfielder, a £7m signing from Rennes in 2014, has become one of the most sought-after central midfield players after helping the French club to their first title in 17 years last season.
Antonio Conte looks to be winning the race to capture the 22-year-old’s signature – but where would he fit in at Chelsea? And how did Bakayoko become the player he is today? Read on to find out.
Rough start at Monaco
Monaco value Bakayoko at £35m, following his key role in their 2016/17 Ligue 1 title win. That’s five times what they paid Rennes for his services three years ago, underlining his rise from promising teenager to top class enforcer.
But it was a transition not without its bumps along the way. Bakayoko – just 19 years old when he joined Monaco after a solitary season in the Rennes first team – initially struggled and made only 24 league starts in his first two years at the club.
In fact, his debut was a complete disaster. In August 2014 Leonardo Jardim picked his new signing ahead of club captain Jeremy Toulalan for a home match against relegation battlers Lorient. But inexperienced Bakayoko was out of his depth and replaced after 32 minutes. Monaco lost the match 2-1, while the midfielder lost his manager’s trust.
His situation had hardly improved 12 months on when Jardim publicly questioned his attitude in pre-season and he became better known for his flashy villa and pink Porsche Cayenne than for any impact on the pitch.
“I expect players to work to progress and be approached by big teams,” said Jardim at the time. “He has great qualities but he has had difficult times and he cannot always play. There are professional players in the same position.”
Injuries did not help, with a particularly nasty hamstring problem sidelining him for three months of his debut season. “I learned from my injuries,” Bakayoko has said since. “I feel good physically. The body is the most important. And I know mine better and better.”
The turnaround began midway through his second season, prompted by the appointment of former Chelsea midfielder Claude Makelele as Monaco’s technical director. Makelele helped to mentor Bakayoko, challenging the youngster to take his game more seriously, and the investment paid off.
The pink Porsche was quietly changed to black, while the villa on the French Riviera was swapped for a city apartment. In the words of Jardim, Bakayoko “grew up”.
His most recent campaign was comfortably his best yet. Stepping in for the departed Toulalan, this time he took his chance. He added steel to Monaco’s midfield and allowed Thomas Lemar, Kylian Mbappe and Bernardo Silva to shine. The result was a team that romped to the title with 95 points, scoring 107 goals in the process.
In the Champions League, his crucial header at the Stade Louis II eliminated Manchester City on away goals and Bakayoko starred again as Monaco saw off Borussia Dortmund in their quarter-final, second leg.
Bakayoko is an imposing midfield presence, strong in the tackle and quick to snuff out opposition attacks. He averaged 2.2 interceptions per game last season, more than other heralded holding players, Paris Saint-Germain star Marco Verratti (0.8) and team-mate Fabinho (1.6).
In the Champions League, he recovered the ball 95 times, the third-best total in the competition behind Atletico’s Gabi and Leicester’s Danny Drinkwater.
In the words of Jardim: “He is a player able to manage matches well, to balance the team, to circulate the ball and to win the duels against the opponent.”
His performances at club level won international recognition in March when he made his France debut in a 2-0 defeat to Spain. Despite the scoreline, Bakayoko left another coach singing his praises.
“He’s a complete midfielder,” said France boss Didier Deschamps. “He has an important athletic presence, he’s good at recovery, he scores decisive goals and is able to project himself.”
Position at Chelsea?
So where would Bakayoko fit in at Chelsea? Player of the year N’Golo Kante is one of the first names on Conte’s team-sheet but there may be an opening alongside him.
Nemanja Matic was Kante’s regular partner for the Premier League winners but the Serb has been strongly linked with Manchester United. If Bakayoko replaced Matic, Chelsea would be getting a replacement six years younger, with equally impressive physical traits.
Those attributes make it easy to project a relatively smooth transition to English football and his proven Champions League pedigree is a bonus ahead of Chelsea’s return to the competition.Soccer Accumulator Bonus
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