Cast your mind back to the 2016/2017 season. Monaco had just become the first team since Montpellier in 2012 to win Ligue 1 and the team to break the Paris Saint-Germain monopoly in France’s top division.
They had reached the semi-finals of the Champions League, beating Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund before falling at the final hurdle to Juventus. The team captured the attention and imagination of European football fans with players such as Kylian Mbappe and Bernardo Silva taking the headlines with some incredible performances. Inevitably, the Ligue 1 winning squad was dismantled.
Silva went to Manchester City alongside Benjamin Mendy, Kylian Mbappe joined PSG, Valerie Germain joined Marseille and Tiemoue Bakayoko joined Chelsea for £40M. A lot was expected of every young player that departed the club in that summer but a lot of expectation and attention was placed upon the shoulders of Bakayoko, as he joined the then Premier League champions and, perhaps unfairly, was compared to Claude Makelele and was expected to partner N’Golo Kante in a very strong looking Chelsea midfield under Antonio Conte.
At Monaco, Bakayoko made a somewhat slow start and had to change his mindset to suit what Leonardo Jardim wanted. At first, Bakayoko had to change living in his luxury villa in Monte Carlo to a regular apartment, he changed the colour of his car from pink to black, changed his diet and took boxing classes to, essentially, become a “proper” professional footballer instead of someone who only enjoyed living the lifestyle.
Bakayoko had the natural talent to dominate a midfield with his strength but also to run the game with his passing and technical ability, but he needed that kick up the backside from the likes of Jardim and Claude Makelele who had been brought in to Monaco as a technical director and took it upon himself to guide Bakayoko.
It’s no coincidence that with the right guidance, the right system and the right environment, Bakayoko flourished at Monaco and the hefty fee paid by Chelsea - their second highest transfer fee at the time - was completely justified. On paper, a midfield duo of the dynamic Bakayoko and Kante sounded superb. It sounded like the perfect Conte midfield; energetic, intelligent and defensively sound.
But unlike his time at Monaco where he was allowed to learn and had the right figures in the background keeping him on his toes, Bakayoko didn’t seem to have this at Chelsea. After his sending off in the 4-1 away defeat against Watford, Bakayoko only made five more appearances after playing all but two games in the first part of the Premier League season.
The Frenchman didn’t look confident. It’s easy to say that the toxic nature of Chelsea last season helped him find some sort of excuse but the reality is the lack of confidence affected Bakayoko’s form. He scored twice for Chelsea in the Premier League but his overall performances never justified the Makelele comparisons.
With Conte gone and Maurizio Sarri entering Stamford Bridge, expectation was 100 per cent the opposite of the previous season. In 2017, Bakayoko was expected to become a stalwart of the new-look Chelsea midfield, but in 2018 he was expected to be let go from the club. Was his mentality not prepared to take harsh criticism? Did he need to get away from a club like Chelsea where there was a different level of expectation to what he had at Monaco?
Chelsea were keen to loan him out and Milan were more than happy to take him, and why wouldn’t they? Based off of his performance at Monaco, Bakayoko had the potential to be a star for the Rossoneri and a club that didn’t have the same level of expectation of Chelsea and could bleed Bakayoko into a system.
Unfortunately for Milan, the Bakayoko at Monaco clearly hasn’t shown up in Italy, almost like his identical, albeit less talented brother arrived to take his place. Coach Gennaro Gattuso has already spoken about Bakayoko, warning: “he needs to learn how to keep the ball. One week is not enough to learn and to remove the defects of the player. I would have preferred to be managing older, more experienced club players.”
After six rather poor performances and some mistakes against Olympiakos in the UEFA Europa League, Milan are reportedly ready to send Bakayoko back to Chelsea because, by the looks of things, his mentality hasn’t improved at all and he’s still affected by some of his poor performances. We can only assume and speculate what Bakayoko is feeling or what he’s doing in his spare time, but all signs seem to be pointing towards the fact he simply hasn’t grown up after leaving Monaco. If you need people at your club to continuously keep you on your toes and to always remind you how to be a professional, you aren’t going to be around for very long.
Will Gattuso give Bakayoko time? Rumour is that Milan are giving Bakayoko six games to prove himself and it seems to be more than just a performance based issue here. If Bakayoko has history of not always being in the right frame of mind and letting that affect his performances, Milan are well within their right to give him another shot and let him go if he doesn’t improve.