When AC Milan acquired defensive midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko from Premier League club Chelsea in the summer of 2018, Rossoneri supporters were arguably more bewildered than excited with the news of his arrival at the club.
He flopped at the Blues during the 2017/18 campaign and the 24-year-old was already on the move just a year after signing from Ligue 1 club Monaco for €46.5 million.
The Diavolo needed to bolster the midfield but the Frenchman posed a slight risk based on his sojourn in England and paying the West London club €5m for the loan spell as well as the option to buy for €35m perhaps brought further concerns.
Despite his initial struggles adapting to Italian football, Bakayoko has gone from an error-prone footballer to one that possesses the confidence and ability to control the proceedings.
Standing at 189 cm tall, the French midfielder is capable of winning battles in the air but he does his best work at ground level. He is great at winning the ball back for his team with his tackling as well as his ability to intercept passes, and although he is not a player that goes out to play with flair, he still possesses decent technical skills with the ball at his feet.
According to WhoScored, Bakayoko wins an average of 2.4 aerial duals per game, 2.3 tackles, 1.4 interceptions, and 1.8 dribbles in 21 Serie A matches. He also averages 43.8 passes per match and has a passing accuracy of 86.7 per cent.
Although he does not boast the experience that Argentine veteran Lucas Biglia has, the former Monaco midfielder offers his own attributes to this AC Milan team and he has certainly made the most of his playing opportunities when the 33-year-old was out with a calf injury.
In the second half of the season, Rossoneri coach Gennaro Gattuso has had Franck Kessie and new Brazilian signing Lucas Paqueta flanking Bakayoko, and the three midfielders add their own qualities to the team.
Kessie is a physically strong player that can run up and down the pitch and also get into scoring positions, while Paqueta has also been able to cover ground, demonstrate an ability to read the play and also provide moments of flamboyant skill.
What Bakayoko offers is that ability to protect centre-backs Mateo Musacchio and Alessio Romagnoli behind him and his ability to win the ball back as well as simple and effective distribution allow Kessie and Paqueta to advance forward more often.
His improvement as a player and his performances in recent months have certainly earned praise from Gattuso, who surprisingly compared him to French great Marcel Desailly.
“The biggest surprise is seeing how he has improved in reading situations during the game,” the Milan coach said after the 2-1 victory against Parma in Serie A in November 2018.
“On a tactical level, I’m surprised. He completely bought into the things we showed him on video. It was also nice to see the appreciation from the fans as well. With my No.2 [Luigi] Riccio, I said that it seemed like we were watching Desailly, and maybe Bakayoko is a bit more technical.”
The feeling is mutual between Bakayoko and Gattuso. He might be owned by Chelsea but the 24-year-old is now willing to stay with AC Milan beyond this season and he is satisfied with playing under the former Rossoneri and Italy star.
“I really like the city of Milan, I’m very happy here and I want to stay. We all have a very good relationship with Gattuso and we have the same concepts of football,” Bakayoko said.
“For me, Gattuso is like a father and I am happy to have him as my coach.”
Initially seen as a player with a danger for providing the calamitous, Bakayoko is now a fundamental part of this Milan side.