How Tiemoue Bakayoko can resuscitate career at AC Milan
By the end of 2018's summer transfer window, Chelsea had loaned out no fewer than 30 players. The most standout name among them, by a long shot, is Tiemoue Bakayoko. The French midfielder joined AC Milan last week on a one-year deal. There's an option to make the move permanent should he impress the Rossoneri.
After just 11 months at Barcelona, Paulinho was loaned back to China's Guangzhou Evergrande this summer. It came as a surprise given the Catalans paid €40 million for the midfielder's services. Bakayoko cost Chelsea a near-identical fee.
The former Monaco enforcer would be schooled by Paulinho in midfield duties. Even more so judging on their performance last campaign. Barca's Brazilian was robust, astute and goal-laden, whereas his Chelsea contemporary made enemies of own supporters due to consistent poor displays.
In 2016-17, Monaco's talent came to the fore. Among the most notable was Kylian Mbappe, Bernardo Silva, Thomas Lemar, Fabinho and Benjamin Mendy. Bakayoko was a gem in that team, too. Each of those aforementioned players has since left the Stade Louis II.
Thirteen years ago, Chelsea signed a midfielder from Ligue 1. He went on to earn legend status in the Premier League. Michael Essien's transfer was sanctioned by then Blues manager Jose Mourinho. Bakayoko's move, meanwhile, was the board's idea. Former boss Antonio Conte wanted to keep Nemanja Matic. Failing that, the Italian would have demanded an adequate replacement. Radja Nainggolan was a possibility.
Bakayoko's job was to assume the box-to-box role. The Stamford Bridge faithful love a midfield bully. Despite bot being 100% fit, he performed that task well against Tottenham Hotspur on his league debut. However, maintaining consistency proved difficult. Before long, Chelsea fans, already livid due to a disappointing title defence, singled out the Frenchman for condemnation.
With the criticism piling up, Bakayoko's form did nothing to alleviate worries. By mid-season, many Blues supporters wanted him gone. His worst outing came away at Watford. Within the opening 30 minutes, he lost the ball seven times before getting sent off. Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher described it as 'one of the worst performances you will see from a player this season.'
Bakayoko's main problem was his failure to adapt to the Premier League's crazy intensity. That frustration has roots in the knee problem he arrived with. As a team, Chelsea were struggling through the campaign. He was a poor performer in a side performing poorly.
Given the chance, Bakayoko had the ability to deliver during his second season at Chelsea. The opportunity had been blown, though. Considering the Blues' midfield quality, a new stomping ground was the better idea. Milan has provided the haven for a renaissance.
In this campaign, Bakayoko has no choice but to avoid similar pitfalls that plagued him in West London. He must adapt quickly to Serie A life. Italy's top tier calls for more than just physicality; it demands tactical nous. Fortunately, he'll have a good teacher in Gennaro Gattuso, who was once a midfield general.
At only 24, Bakayoko has time and strength on his side. Standing at 6'2'', he possesses an imposing physique. His game could easily return to the frightening heights it was once at with a little extra effort.
Besides being a tireless ball-winner, AC Milan need Bakayoko to be efficient in possession. That's the midfielder they will want to sign permanently. Should he regain top form with the Rossoneri, Chelsea might offer him a second chance.