When Tiemoue Bakayoko joined AC Milan on loan before the start of the season, he quickly took to social media to publicly thank the club for rescuing him from his Chelsea nightmare.
“Milan, thank you for believing in me and for all your support,” the midfielder wrote on Instagram. “We’re ready to tackle to the new season.”
Unfortunately, two months on, and Bakayoko still doesn’t look anything like ready to play a significant part in Milan’s 2018-19 Serie A campaign.
Indeed, it would be a major surprise if he sees any game time at all in this weekend’s Derby della Madonnina with city rivals Inter.
After just six appearances in a Milan shirt, there is a sorry lack of belief and support in Bakayoko right now.
And that is primarily because Bakayoko still looks utterly bereft of confidence in himself.
After his disastrous debut season at Chelsea, the move to Milan was meant to kickstart his career.
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AC Milan, thank you for believing in me and for all the support … Siamo pronti per affrontare la nuova stagione ???
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“I learned a lot and worked very hard in the Premier League, but I think I might be more suited to Serie A and am very happy that Milan called me,” the France international said after arriving in Milan.
However, Rossoneri coach Gennaro Gattuso already seems to be at his wit’s end with Bakayoko, who has proven just as out of his depth in Italy as he was in England.
The former Milan midfielder initially argued that the language barrier was proving a hindrance, claiming that an inability to communicate with his team-mates was holding the Frenchman back.
Soon after, though, Gattuso admitted that Bakayoko simply couldn’t comprehend the concepts he was being asked to embrace, for which he, quite considerately, took full responsibility.
“Bakayoko needs to be helped, as he is struggling,” he confessed. “The tactics haven’t been drilled into his head yet and, evidently, it’s my fault.
“We need to do more work with him in training. He has been here for two months and we haven’t yet been able to get him to understand the movements.
“It is our duty to improve him as a player because he does have a lot of quality but we’re not finding that yet.”
That is undeniably true. After four substitute appearances in Serie A and two starts in the Europa League, Bakayoko still looks as lost as he did when he made his Milan debut against Napoli on August 25.
We are not seeing the driving force behind Monaco’s 2016-17 Ligue 1 triumph. We are seeing the confused character that turned in one of the worst individual performances in Premier League history last season, against Watford.
Worryingly, when most recently asked about Bakayoko’s struggles, Gattuso suggested that the 24-year-old is lacking not only certain fundamental skills, but also the most rudimentary understanding of the game.
“Bakayoko has to learn how to get the ball,” he argued. “We must work correctly with him. It will not be easy.
“One week is not enough to remove the defects of a player.”
Whatever the veracity of that statement, it certainly will have done nothing to restore the confidence of a player who has not looked right, mentally, since enduring a disastrous debut for France against Spain in March 2017.
Indeed, it is worth noting that he hasn’t played for Les Bleus since. Though he helped Monaco win Ligue 1 and reach the quarter-finals of the Champions League that year, his performances tailed off dramatically towards the business end of that season, at fault for both goals in the 2-0 semi-final first-leg defeat to Juventus.
He has yet to rediscover his best form and, after being immediately deemed surplus to requirements by new Chelsea boss Maurizio Sarri during the summer, the worry now is that his situation at San Siro is already irrecoverable.
Only last week, the Corriere dello Sport reported that Milan now want to cut short his loan stay and return him to Stamford Bridge in January.
That is unlikely to happen, though, given Sarri already thinks his squad is too big and also ranks Bakayoko below even Danny Drinkwater in the midfield pecking order at Stamford Bridge.
Secondly, while Milan are looking to bring in Lucas Vazqueta and another central midfielder during the winter break, they would not be willing to renege on their €5m season-long loan of Bakayoko for no other reason than to retain a back-up for Franck Kessie & Co.
Still, Bakayoko will almost certainly be returned to Chelsea at the end of the season, with Milan presently refusing to even entertain the idea of paying an additional €35m to make the transfer permanent.
Few other clubs would be interested in Bakayoko at that price, either, meaning Chelsea are likely to have accept a significant loss on their €40m investment if they are to remove him from their books next summer.
There are those, though, that Bakayoko can still get back to his best; that his technical problems are confidence-related.
As former Monaco team-mate Andrea Raggi told the Gazzetta dello Sport , “When he arrived at Monaco from Rennes in 2014, it took him a while to adapt there too. He only started making an impact in the second season.
“I think Tiemoue needs to be put in the best condition to express himself the way he can. He has to feel important and mustn’t have too much pressure on his shoulders, at least not at the start.”
After a disastrous 18 months, though, the pressure to prove himself is only intensifying. He needs belief and support more than ever before.
However, with Chelsea having already given up on him, and Milan set to follow suit, the question is where he’s going to get any from.