Prior to his £33 million transfer to Chelsea, Michy Batshuayi was one of the hottest prospects in European football.
He would go on to make just a single Premier League start in his debut season in the English top tier and would eventually be offered to a host of clubs over the summer transfer window by Antonio Conte, though vowed to fight for his place. Despite his restricted playing time, Batshuayi scored five goals in 239 minutes - an average of a goal every 48 minutes - and refused to read into the claims that he was not cut out for a starring role at Chelsea.
Marseille were ready to take their former forward back on loan, while at least 10 Premier League clubs offered a temporary home, but Batshuayi again refused to give into the pressure.
His confidence is admirable but isn't shared by his manager, who has worked extensively with the striker to develop his understanding of what is required.
Batshuayi has made just two Premier League starts this season, with another five coming in cup competitions. And, to the striker's credit, he has scored seven goals this term in 20 bit-part appearances. However, his overall contribution is significantly short of what Conte requires from his leading frontman and the Italian's preference to push Eden Hazard into a makeshift 'false nine' role over selecting Batshuayi is telling. As was Conte's push to sign Fernando Llorente in the summer as an understudy to Diego Costa.
"He has to show me that he's better than Morata, or than Hazard. It's very simple,” Conte said earlier in the season. “But don't forget that Michy this season is playing more than last season. Last season he didn't play. He didn't play and I think this season, if you consider his injury for a month, he had his chance."
And Batshuayi was offered another chance to make a mark ahead of Chelsea's Carabao Cup tie with Norwich on January 6, with Alvaro Morata dropping to the bench and Hazard missing out through injury. Batshuayi offered little, however, and was eventually replaced by Morata in the second with the home support mocking the Belgium international as he left the pitch.
Norwich fans chant: "What a waste of money at Batshuayi." #NORCHE— Nizaar Kinsella (@NizaarKinsella) January 6, 2018
With an eye on the Russia World Cup this summer, Batshuayi is increasingly in need of regular playing time to restore his reputation as one of the most promising forward's in Europe.
Batshuayi is a player who hit double figures in goals in the four seasons prior to joining Chelsea, with his final campaign at Marseille ending with 23 in all competitions. His season and a half with Chelsea, then, can be fairly marked as a stain on an otherwise promising career to date. Still 24, Batshuayi now has a decision to make if he is to retain his status ahead of Roberto Martinez selecting his Belgium side for the World Cup.
"I was a player, I understand if someone is worried about the World Cup," Conte said previously when asked about his plans for fringe players in the winter transfer window. "I understand [if they want to leave], but at the same time it’s very important to keep players very happy to stay here, to work with us and I think this must be our priority."
So what next for Batshuayi?
Goal understands that Sevilla hold a strong interest in a six-month loan deal, while a move to West Ham has also been suggested. Chelsea are unwilling to let him leave without a replacement, however, regardless of how a move away would benefit all parties.
Sevilla's proposition is an attractive one, with European football in hand and currently sitting fifth in the Liga rankings. Vincenzo Montella's side recognise that Chelsea need a replacement before sanctioning a loan move, however, and are therefore also looking at both Stevan Jovetic of Monaco, who spent part of last season at the club, and Everton attacker Sandro Ramírez. The decision is up to Conte, though, and he risks scuppering Batshuayi's development by not pulling the trigger.
“Michy is a young player," Conte said. "He has to work very hard to improve himself. But he's doing this. I'm happy with his behaviour and his commitment. But I have to make the best decision for the team."
With Conte's mind made up and having had little change from persevering with his goal of being Chelsea's leading striker, now is the time for Batshuayi to cut his losses and look to make a short-term impact elsewhere.