Tiemoue Bakayoko was expected to hit the ground running and fit in to Chelsea’s system with ease, but that’s not how it works for every foreign player and this shouldn’t come as a surprise to an educated observer
Big things were expected of Tiemoue Bakayoko after he joined Chelsea from Monaco last summer. The French midfielder cost the west London club just under £40m after enjoying a breakout season in Monte Carlo, that saw him finish as a Ligue 1 champion. During that 2016/17 campaign, Bakayoko was a key figure for the French club and their success in the Champions League, scoring a goal in the memorable second round tie against Manchester City.
So, life should be good for a promising, young talent who has made a move to one of England’s biggest clubs? Not quite. Chelsea, the defending Premier League champions, are not enjoying the same success domestically as they did last season. Antonio Conte’s men have found it difficult juggling Champions League football, along with the other cup competitions – they reached the semi-final of the league cup and are still in the FA Cup – and there has been talk of unrest between the manager and the higher-ups at the club.
This seems to have taken its toll on the players and overall team performance. The Blues do not look like the same unit and aren’t playing with the confidence and energy that saw them blow opposition away at times last season. Bakayoko was one of many high-profile Chelsea recruits in the summer. Alvaro Morata joined for big money, just over £60m, from Real Madrid. Danny Drinkwater joined from Leicester City for over £30m. Defenders Antonio Rudiger and Davide Zappacosta both swapped Serie A for the Premier League for sizeable fees, joining from Roma and Torino, respectively.
Out of all those summer recruits, Bakayoko has received the most criticism, though. Various pundits like Rio Ferdinand, and former players, namely Frank Lampard, have stated that he’s yet to find his feet in the Premier League and have called on the young Frenchman to do more. The 23-year-old midfielder has played 35 times for his new club in all competitions, scoring three goals and notching up the same amount of assists.
Not to get too bogged down by stats and analytics, but those numbers, as we transition into the latter half of the season, do not make for bad reading for a player in his first season. Has Bakayoko had a few bad games? You can argue his most ineffective game to date was at Vicarage Road, against Watford, which saw him receive two yellow cards in under five minutes. Chelsea went on to lose that game 4-1.
Fans and pundits alike are guilty of being victims of the moment. Very rarely do they take the time to consider what a player who may not be in the best vein of form might be going through. Before joining Chelsea, France and Ligue 1 was all Bakayoko knew. It would not be ridiculous to suggest that he may be experiencing homesickness.
A product of the Rennes academy, the midfielder made his senior debut for the club at 19 years of age. He then moved to Monaco, spending three seasons there, before Chelsea came calling, and also made his senior international debut for France last March. Now 23, at a new club, in a different country, and in a unique league, he’s expected to hit the ground running and fit in to Chelsea’s system with ease? No. That’s not how it works for every foreign player and this shouldn’t come as a surprise to an educated observer.
Ferdinand and Lampard, excellent playerers during their playing days, should know better than anybody how difficult playing in the Premier League is. Both would have experienced, first-hand, foreign teammates coming to England and finding it hard to adapt right away. One can argue whether either is qualified to call Bakayoko’s performances into question, as neither played abroad in the early stages of their careers. Ferdinand spent his whole club career playing for sides in his native England, and although Lampard did have a stint over in the American MLS, that experience was more of a retirement tour for the former Chelsea man.
It is widely known that some players take a season, some a season-and-a-half or even two to find their feet in a new league – Tottenham’s Son Heung-Min comes to mind. Although Bakayoko and Son play in different positions, the concept is the same. Only now, in his third season, is the South Korea international showing just how important he is to Spurs and what they do as a team. He looks evidently more confident than he did in his debut season, when he was just 23, the same age as Bakayoko for the record.
To judge and write off a player after just half a season is incredibly short-sighted. Bakayoko has undoubted talent and quality and it would be foolish to rule out the possibility of the Frenchman enjoying far more success next season in Chelsea’s midfield.