Midfield powerhouse Tiemoue Bakayoko has become one of the biggest stars in world football after his £39.4million move to Chelsea. But less than 3 years ago, his career was going very much in the opposite direction. Bakayoko’s road to recognition has never been straighforward. Considered a bright talent in his childhood, he was hugely disappointed when rejected by the famous Clairefontaine academy; then to make matters worse he broke his leg, which left Rennes as the only club still interested in signing him. His ability was rated highly in Breton, but his attitude was far from perfect, and off-field issues delayed his first-team debut. It was only at the age of 19, when Philippe Montanier surprisingly left Real Sociedad to replace Frederic Antonetti at Roazhon Park, that Bakayoko got his chance in the starting line-up. Bakayoko wasn’t playing regularly, but Monaco liked what they saw in his 19 starts and offered €8m for the midfielder in summer 2014. Bakayoko became bewitched by the trappings of wealth and fame, in the playground of the world’s super-rich. He owned a lavish villa on the outskirts of Nice, just down the French Riviera from Monaco. Old friends from Rennes would travel to meet him and enjoy the party lifestyle that has been the trademark of this exclusive stretch of Mediterranean coast for decades. And most notoriously of all, he drove around the Riviera in a Porsche Cayene painted a garish pink.
For two long years it looked like Bakayoko had made a bad choice. He didn’t see eye-to-eye with Portuguese coach Jardim after performing awfully on his debut in a disastrous home defeat to Lorient. Jardim chose to replace the youngster after just 32 minutes, and there was no mutual trust between them for quite a while. The midfielder then suffered a serious thigh injury in January 2015 that ruled him out for four months. Upon returning, he got a rare chance to prove himself when Jardim gave him a defensive role for the last 15 minutes at Stade Velodrome against Marseille. Monaco were leading 1-0 when Bakayoko came on, and ended up losing 2-1. According to a report in respected French newspaper L’Equipe, Bakayoko only realised the error of his ways when one of his first coaches from Rennes, who had known him as a skinny teenager, came to visit. The un-named coach was not impressed and even refused to ride alongside his former protege in the infamous pink Porsche, worth around £90,000. Instead the coach spent a week putting the young Bakayoko back on track. The incident had a profound impact on the starlet. A devout Muslim, Bakayoko decided to rededicate himself to his profession. And as a mark of his change of heart, he even had the Porsche resprayed in black.
The start of the 2015/16 season was disastrous as well, but Bakayoko’s whole life changed when Claude Makelele joined Monaco’s staff. One of the best holding midfielders of recent times gave a lot of advice to the youngster – not only about playing style, but also about taking care of himself on an everyday basis. His former youth coach at Rennes, Yannick Menu, was also called in to help to put the midfielder back on track. The results were remarkable. Bakayoko moved from a flashy villa into a regular apartment, started boxing courses, consulted specialists about his diet, and even changed the colour of his car from pink to black. In short, he concentrated on becoming a professional footballer, and Jardim was quick to recognise the huge changes in his character. Bakayoko won back his place, and by the summer he was ready to be truly unleashed.
Bakayoko’s Style of Play
Bakayoko is an imposing figure in midfield – and while he used to be slender in his youth, he’s grown into an athlete of great physical prowess. He’s quick, reads the game well, makes a lot of interceptions and is stong in the tackle, while he can also build play with his quality passing and good dribbling skills. It’s easy to see why comparisons with Toure abound. Bakayoko was exceptional last season, but he’s been known to be inconsistent in the past and there’s no guarantee that such problems are gone forever. He can still lose concentration from time to time, and currently needs an experienced leader alongside him to shine, while there’s also work to be done to improve his goalscoring record. Chelsea are set to replace Nemanja Matic with Tiemoue Bakayoko in midfield, reinforcing the centre of their team with a player who excels at stepping forward to win the ball and take it beyond his opponents. Last season he made 56 interceptions for French champions Monaco in Ligue 1, more than any other midfielder in Leonardo Jardim’s squad.
He was second only to Fabinho for tackles won, with 57, and completed 57 take ons too, making him one of the most prolific and successful dribblers in Europe’s top five for bringing the ball forward through midfield. The 22-year-old would have topped that category across all competitions for his club had it not been for Bernardo Silva. Bakayoko is more than a destroyer yet as a partner to Kante he could form a formidable two-man null zone in the middle of the park to prevent teams trying to play through the centre. While they may continue as a solid screen in front of a back three in Conte’s 3-4-2-1 shape, their sturdiness with and without possession also opens up other possibilities. Before he turned to the formation that ultimately sent Chelsea to the title last season, the Italian toyed with playing with two wingers and two strikers in what amounted to a 4-2-4 system. It proved to be too vulnerable to succeed in the Premier League in 2016, not least due to Matic’s apparent discomfort at holding his position. Bakayoko has shown he is happy to sit back when needed for Monaco, especially in the Champions League. An all-French midfield duo could give Conte the strong-point he needs to deploy four out-and-out attacking players in a shape that brought him success with Bari and Siena before taking over at Juventus.
Bakayoko, who likes to wear the No14 shirt in homage to the area of Paris he grew up in, enjoyed his finest season last year, admits Makelele’s influence made a huge difference. “He told me that I had a tendency to get distracted. It was true,” Bakayoko told L’Equipe . “I took too many risks, but when you play in this position, you have to be calm and effective. He helped me channel myself.” It worked. Bakayoko enjoyed a breakthrough season as Monaco landed their first league title for 17 years, and reached the Champions League semi-finals. The next stage now is a move to Makelele’s former club Chelsea. The former Blue believes his one-time protégé can get even better in England. Makelele told Goal: “He’s not one to get scared. He makes the decisions all the time, sometimes it’s wrong, but this kind of player will make mistakes in order to get better. “He has quality as a dribbler, passer, the timing of the pass. He’s good, very good. “Now he needs one manager that will make him a big player.”
We also like to end this article with a skills video of him in 2017.