Johan Bakayoko: PSV's teenage star thriving under Van Nistelrooy

Johan Bakayoko NXGN GFXGOAL

One of the finest strikers of the 2000s, Ruud van Nistelrooy has had to wait for his chance to step into first-team management.

The ex-Manchester United and Real Madrid forward has had two spells as part of the coaching staff for the Netherlands national side, while also working within the youth structure at PSV.

But this summer, Van Nistelrooy will make the step up to take charge of the senior side in Eindhoven, replacing the outgoing Roger Schmidt after a season in charge of Jong PSV in the second tier of Dutch football.

Given his playing career, the 45-year-old will be expected to particularly oversee improvements in attack, though there is a chance he will first have to rebuild his forward line.

Cody Gakpo is expected to move on, with a host of Europe's biggest clubs - including Arsenal, Liverpool and Bayern Munich - having been linked with the 22-year-old winger.

At the start of the season, the same thing was expected for Noni Madueke, but injuries have hampered the England youth international in 2021-22, meaning the Premier League and Bundesliga clubs that are keen on the forward may well decide to look elsewhere, at least for now.

Regardless, Van Nistelrooy is going to require reinforcements, one of which could be the teenager that has lit up his own side this term.

With just a single game of Jong PSV's season to play, Johan Bakayoko can already boast a record of 17 goals and 11 assists for the team in 2021-22, meaning he has been directly involved in a goal every 85.4 minutes in the second division.

Given he only managed a solitary strike and three assists in 19 appearances at that level last season, that is quite some improvement from the Belgium youth international, and one which Van Nistelrooy has played a key role in.

"You can see that he has power and also a good shot," Van Nistelrooy told ESPN in January. "He plays such controlled football that you forget that he is only 18.

"If he continues to invest so much in what he does, he is a boy who is on the right track to join the first team at the end of the season."

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That step has not quite materialised, however, with the 19-year-old having made just two appearances off the bench for PSV's senior side thus far, but that is likely to change once Van Nistelrooy takes the reins.

PSV certainly envisaged him becoming a first-team player when they tempted him to join the club from Anderlecht in 2019, with Bakayoko having previously spent time at Club Brugge and Mechelen.

His first two seasons with the club, though, suggested that he may be some distance off that level, and that following Madueke's path of starring for the youth sides before making an impact on the Eredivisie was unlikely.

The club, though, saw things differently, and in the summer of 2021 offered the teenager a new four-year contract, which Bakayoko signed while donned in a white suit and red bowtie.

"Now it's up to me to prove that I can put up the numbers required of me," he said at the time. "I want to be more decisive in terms of my stats, and I've been talking to the coaches about doing that."

He has been a man of his word, honing his finishing ability under Van Nistelrooy's watchful eye, though he is much more than a player who puts the ball in the net.

Naturally left-footed, he generally plays from the right-hand side, using his speed and close control to cause nightmares for opposing full-backs before cutting inside to either score or create chances for his team-mates.

With six, he has the most goals from outside the penalty area in the Dutch second tier, with his decision making in terms of when to try his luck and when to look for help much improved from previous years.

"At the beginning of 2021, Johan was not doing well," his agent, Gerard Witters, told Het Nieuwsblad. "But after he got his new contract, everything changed.

"He started to boost his stats and his recent games were phenomenal. The club has told me that Johan is already better than they initially thought he would be.

"Before he sometimes played like a crazy dog. He had great qualities and was very explosive, but he produced poor crosses and took shots when they were not the best option.

"Now he knows a lot more what he's going to do and defenders can't stop him anymore, despite the fact that he always does the same movement (cutting inside).”

Bakayoko's form has been particularly good since the season's winter break, with his confidence spiking after he netted four times against VVV-Venlo in January.

More recently, he came off the bench for the final 33 minutes against FC Eindhoven and scored twice before assisting PSV's third goal in a game that looked to be heading for a draw until the youngster's introduction.

Now the challenge becomes replicating those performances against the best teams in the land, with PSV hopeful of yet again challenging Ajax for the title after their back-and-forth race this season.

His history with Van Nistelrooy should certainly help in that respect, and if the legendary striker is to succeed as a coach, then he will hope that he can soon rely on his young charge to lead the way.

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