A new chapter starts for Tiemoue Bakayoko. The France international midfielder has joined AC Milan on loan with an option to buy , eager to rebuild his career following a nightmare year at Chelsea.
The exiled midfielder was subject to much ridicule throughout the 2017-18 season, but initially was actually a fan favourite.
He returned early from a summer-long knee injury – which had seen him miss all of pre-season - to play against Tottenham amid a selection crisis for Antonio Conte.
The Frenchman plugged an important gap in an unlikely 2-1 away win versus a Spurs side who were in excellent condition. He also produced a fine performance in another 2-1 away victory versus Atletico Madrid in the Champions League.
These early showings illustrated why Antonio Conte was so keen to sign the midfield powerhouse for £40 million from Monaco that summer.
Conte saw the midfielder as the perfect partner for N'Golo Kante, both in a two and three man midfield – the latter system designed to allow Cesc Fabregas more freedom to do what he does best. So good was Bakayoko's early form that he even was granted a popular chant by Chelsea fans: "Oh ee oh, Tiemoue Bakayoko! Oh ee oh, together with N'Golo! Oh ee oh, he never gives the ball away!"
However, the noise began to quieten in October when an injury to Kante highlighted Bakayoko's shortcomings. Chelsea’s form plummeted without the 2016-17 Player of the Year and the partnership of Fabregas and Bakayoko simply did not work. Chelsea became the first team to both lose to and concede a goal to Crystal Palace while they struggled to make it out of their Champions League group – being thumped 3-0 by Roma in Italy along the way.
Kante returned, but Bakayoko never recovered. He continued to play but he was increasingly being targeted as Chelsea's weak link and was rightly criticised on television by club legend Frank Lampard for his display against Liverpool at the end of November.
Bakayoko's poor form meant Fabregas played more than ever and the Spaniard had to try and adapt his game to become more like Nemanja Matic, who had been sold in the summer to Manchester United. Bakayoko was regularly compared to Matic, and it was a comparison that was unfavourable to him in virtually every facet of his game – particularly when it came to passing and positioning.
His all-time low in a Chelsea shirt came against Watford in February, where a series of clumsy fouls earned him a sending off in the 30th minute and left his team so short that they were beaten 4-1 by the mid-table side.
Conte had lost all trust in the midfielder by that point, leaving him out for a whole month to shelter him from criticism. His next start would be against Leicester City, but the desire to impress led to a series of clumsy fouls which forced Conte to replace him at half-time, fearing another red card.
Bakayoko was reintroduced at the end of the season as Chelsea went through a broader crisis with their manager, but the incoming Maurizio Sarri would have been watching from afar and realised that it would be too much work to rebuild the confidence of the fallen star.
Sarri has radically overhauled Chelsea's tactical approach, leading him to look for midfielders with different skillsets. The former Napoli manager requires midfielders who can play a short-passing game, clearly not a strength of Bakayoko’s. Jorginho has arrived for £57m from Napoli, while Mateo Kovacic has joined on loan from Real Madrid, meaning that someone had to leave to create space for the new players.
Bakayoko was shipped out after he fell short in his chances to prove to Sarri that he was the right man during pre-season. An error against Inter in Nice led to a goal during their International Champions Cup match, and this will surely have influenced the new man at the Stamford Bridge helm.
Chelsea may make most of their money back on Bakayoko, but the Frenchman is just one of a series of failed signings from the summer of 2017. Danny Drinkwater has never left the fringes of the squad, Davide Zappacosta remains unconvincing in his role and Alvaro Morata has struggled horribly for goals in 2018.
Claude Makelele on working with Tiemoue Bakayoko at Monaco. He talked to him "every day" after noticing his potential despite problems #CFC pic.twitter.com/pbGQCOrFmd — Nizaar Kinsella (@NizaarKinsella) July 13, 2017
Still only 23, Bakayoko is svery young and he can use his loan move to Milan to prove a point to those at Stamford Bridge. Chelsea legend Claude Makelele, who worked with Bakayoko at Monaco, had already warned his former club that the France international wasn't the finished article and needed time to develop.
"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," Makelele told Goal in 2017.
"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."
Perhaps Bakayoko can still be the top player some thought he might become, but it looks like as long as Sarri is at Chelsea, his future will be away from Stamford Bridge.