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Michy Batshuayi: Why Chelsea splashing out on star 'street footballer'

Michy Batshuayi and Chelsea. A deal that took just hours to close on that frantic Tuesday. But also one that has been on the radar at Cobham for over five years.

When Piet de Visser, Chelsea's invaluable transfer adviser, scout and Roman Abramovich confidant, urged a Belgian signing spree four years ago, among the names he recommended was Batshuayi. The then 18 year-old had just broken into Standard Liege's first team and De Visser had little doubt about the lad's potential.

In the end, Chelsea hoovered up Thibaut Courtois, Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne - Eden Hazard was to arrive later - while Batshuayi was left in Liege.

"There was no doubting his talent," a Chelsea source who works on the continent told at the beginning of last season, "but there was just too much happening around him at the time."

Indeed, compared to the likes of Courtois and De Bruyne, Batshuayi was no cookie-cutter graduate of Belgium's celebrated youth system. Before landing at Standard, he'd bounced between Brussels and Anderlecht over a period of three years. At both clubs he found himself suspended and sidelined for ill-discipline. Again, as our source suggested, the talent was there, the coaches could see that, but Batshuayi just couldn't settle down.

Seth Nkandu, who worked with Batshuayi at Anderlecht, recalls: "Brussels released him too soon.

"It was a difficult time for him. His father was not at home and living in a major city like Brussels, it is difficult for a boy of that age to stay focused."

Nkandu adds: "Anderlecht (also) had not done enough for him."

If there's regret in Nkandu's words, it's not recognised by Batshuayi, who regards his old Anderlecht mentor as one of the most influential people in his career.

"If I'm here today, it's thanks to Seth Nkandu. At Anderlecht, he believed in me," says the striker.

Batshuayi regards himself as a street footballer - and is convinced for all the resources poured into Belgian football at youth level, he wouldn't be packing his bags for London without such a grounding.

"In Belgium, many professional players began on the streets or in the parks. It is in these places that one enjoys the game the most," he smiles.

"I think I'll let my son start there before joining a club. It's not normal for a coach to yell at kids of 10 years of age."

By his own admission, Batshuayi has had to curb his knock-about style since breaking through at Standard as a 17 year-old.

"I have a bad boy reputation in Belgium. They judged me because I had two red cards when I started. Look, I did make a lot of mistakes, but now I have matured a lot.

"It is true that after those two stupid reds, the defenders were fond of provoking me, but now when they try to put me off my game, it makes me laugh."

His move to Olympique Marseille two years ago was driven by Marcelo Bielsa, the acclaimed Argentine coach. Despite the indiscretions, Bielsa had pushed OM to sign Batshuayi, convinced he could help the Belgian reach his potential.

"When he's at his best, he's unstoppable," enthused Bielsa during their time together at OM.

"He is an exciting player, a born striker, a good dribbler and powerful.

"He will work hard for his teammates, without losing any of his threat towards the opposition. He will sacrifice a lot for you, but also is dangerous."

Sounds like an ideal addition to any Antonio Conte system. And for the £4.5 million Bielsa convinced the OM board to shell out, Batshuayi - Chelsea's imminent £33 million signing - looks great business.

It's claimed Conte recommended Batshuayi's signing after Abramovich had pulled out of buying Romelu Lukaku. Everton's £65 million demands were just too rich for the Russian. But Marc Degryse reckons Chelsea's owner, despite Lukaku's reputation, may've landed the better of the two strikers.

"He is mobile, has two good feet, is quick enough and can play with his back to goal," says the former Sheffield Wednesday striker. "He has become more mature and I like him more.

"Actually, this lad is perhaps the best striker Belgian has."


As mentioned, it was a frantic Tuesday for Michy Batshuayi.

The previous day, Olympique Marseille had accepted an offer from Crystal Palace of €38 million for the striker. OM wanted the deal done, but Batshuayi wasn't interested in a move to Palace and informed his club on Tuesday morning.

That very same morning, Marina Granovskaia, Chelsea's dealmaker, phoned OM president Vincent Labrune to make their offer: €40 million plus bonuses. Labrune immediately accepted, but there was still a couple twists to come.

Tottenham, where manager Mauricio Pochettino had spoken extensively with Marcelo Bielsa about Batshuayi, came forward with a counter offer to match Chelsea's. West Ham also upped their previous bid to €39 million. Labrune accepted the lot and immediately passed them onto Batshuayi.

But the striker had made up his mind about Chelsea. A dinner meeting earlier in the week between his agents and representatives of Chelsea manager Antonio Conte had done the trick. Batshuayi was convinced. It had to be Chelsea.

By 10:30pm on Tuesday, the deal was done. Labrune had agreed to sell Batshuayi to Chelsea for €40 million. A record for OM, breaking Didier Drogba's €37.5 million fee when he tread the same path 12 years ago.


Michy Batshuayi: What they say about Chelsea's imminent signing

Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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