Chelsea handed major jersey chance to make up lost ground

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Chelsea handed major jersey chance to make up lost ground
Thursday afternoon in sleepy Surrey and Tiémoué Bakayoko, sporting that shock of peroxide blond hair, is returning to his roots. The conversation has lingered on an insistence on wearing the No14 shirt both with Monaco and, since August, at Chelsea, with the justification taking him back to the crammed corner of Paris spanning Montparnasse, just inside the southern stretch of the Péripherique ring-road, which made him the man he is today.

“I’m from the 14th arrondissement, a difficult district, but being Parisian is a badge of honour for me,” he says. “I’m proud to be from there. Wearing 14 means all my neighbourhood is still with me. It’s a pressure I carry, but it’s important to show on the pitch where I come from.
“The values that are important to me – work, persistence, and enjoying myself – they all come from having grown up there. It’s not a particularly poor area but it is a district that’s difficult to escape. Paris produces good footballers. There were good footballers in my quartier, too, and I was one of those. But I was certainly not the best. It’s thanks to hard work, and the people I’ve surrounded myself with, from my brothers, family and friends to the coaches who have believed in me, that I have succeeded in getting where I am today.”
At 23, Bakayoko is a France international and Ligue 1 champion, a £39.7m midfielder who has graced a Champions League semi-final and is establishing himself under Antonio Conte at Alec Ogletree Jersey the Premier League title holders. He will seek to maintain recent impressive form across the capital at Crystal Palace on Saturday, denied the injured N’Golo Kanté at his side but eager to stamp authority on the contest. His physique, all imposing frame and explosive power reminiscent of Patrick Vieira or Yaya Touré, would suggest he is made for football in this country. And yet the talk is still of potential. It is easy at times to forget this is a player only two months into his fifth season as a professional, and who has been a real regular for only one of those campaigns.
His journey even to this point has been far from straightforward. There have been setbacks, some self-inflicted courtesy of a mischievous sense of humour and, as he has acknowledged, a reluctance at times to concentrate at school. His reputation as hard work off the pitch at 13 had been partly responsible for a failure to earn a place at the illustrious Institut National du Football de Clairefontaine, the French Football Federation’s elite youth academy which recruits youngsters from across the Île-de-France region. A number of clubs, including his beloved Paris Saint-Germain, were considering pursuing their own interest when he sustained a double leg fracture in a collision with a goalkeeper while playing for his youth club, Montrouge. That put him out of action him for eight months, with his list of suitors dwindling.
epa05850881 AS Monaco’s Tiemoue Bakayoko (R) celebrates scoring the 3-1 goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16, second leg soccer match between AS Monaco and Manchester City, at Stade Louis II, in Monaco, 15 March 2017. EPA/GUILLAUME HORCAJUELO Photograph: Guillaume Horcajuelo/EPA
“Suffering an injury like that at that age … well, yes, there have been disappointments along the way,” he says. “The same with not getting into Clairefontaine. When you’re young and from Paris, the target is always to get into that academy. But there were other issues which stopped me getting in, and then the injury.” Stade Rennais offered a youth contract regardless of the break and it was in Brittany where Bakayoko, away from his family, found focus. Yannick Menu, then coach Alec Ogletree Jersey of the under‑15s in the club’s respected academy, recognised a raw talent. “Yannick was the first coach I worked with when I arrived at Rennes, and always someone who backed me. He could help me when I was down or punish me when I needed to be punished, someone who told me honestly when I’d done well but also if I had performed poorly, identifying what I needed to work on. He was like a second father for me.”
Bakayoko earned a professional contract and replaced the departed Yann M’Vila in the first team, impressing under Philippe Montanier. Yet, one year into a three-year deal, Monaco paid £6m to lure him south to work under the recently appointed Leonardo Jardim. The 19-year-old was handed a debut on the opening day against Lorient in place of the club captain, Jérémy Toulalan, with the game duly lost and Bakayoko substituted, ignominiously, after 32 minutes. His reaction was furious. It would take months for his relationship with Jardim to heal. “I’m very much a different player now to what I was back then, but I wasn’t happy with being substituted that day. Not at all.


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