Champions League quality has been the factor driving Antonio Conte’s approach towards Chelsea’s summer recruitment process.
Conte’s squad needs boosting in terms of numbers but the Italian manager has made it clear any new signings have to be capable of performing among Europe’s elite.
With Tiemoue Bakayoko he feels there is no doubt.
Conte studied Bakayoko closely last season, making the effort to be there in person to see him in action in as many Champions League games as possible because he wanted to see him working out of possession as much as on the ball and envisage how he might fit into his team.
He was there as Monaco brushed past Tottenham in the group and again when Leonardo Jardim’s exciting young side crushed Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund on their way to the semi-finals.
Conte, having played in the same role for Juventus and Italy, understands what is required at the top level and recognises the signs when a midfielder is out of his depth.
The more he watched the 22-year-old France international, the more he liked what he saw.
The fee is yet to be agreed despite a well-documented figure of £35million. That is likely to be the starting point.
Monaco know exactly how to drive a hard bargain for their proven young players, fully aware they will soar in value if go on to succeed at any of the biggest clubs in Europe.
When negotiating deals with Premier League clubs for Anthony Martial and Bernardo Silva, Monaco’s vice-president Vadim Vasilyev secured considerable add-ons with potential to take both fees beyond £60m.
Chelsea, however, believe they are closing in on Bakayoko.
They will acquire a tall, athletic and energetic midfielder who can cover the pitch at a healthy speed, which is crucial in the Conte’s four-man midfield.
Alongside N’Golo Kante, Chelsea will possess two relentless runners with the stamina to torment opponents and the skill to win the ball cleanly, especially important against the type of skilful playmakers they will encounter in the Champions League.
Bakayoko has never been prolific in front of goal, although City will not forget the header which knocked them out of the Champions League in the first knock-out round this year and he has the talent to develop this creative threat.
Monaco fans were quick to make the comparison with Yaya Toure when he first arrived from Rennes.
Toure played at the Stade Louis II for one year before moving on to Barcelona and Manchester City.
Bakayoko possessed a similar rangy style and is a player with similar ambitions despite taking time for his ability to flourish.
Born in Paris, he was rejected by the Clairefontaine Academy as a teenager and overlooked by France’s most illustrious clubs.
At Rennes, where he started out, he did not force his way through into the first-team until former Nottingham Forest manager Philippe Montanier came in and gave him his debut at the age of 19.
Monaco soon paid £7m to sign him in 2014. Still, it took two more years to flush the inconsistencies from his game.
Chelsea legend Claude Makelele is said to have played a key role in his development during his six-month spell as the club’s director of football in 2016.
Last season, Bakayoko displayed a better focus and a more committed attitude and he was rewarded with his first call up to the France squad earlier this year.
Next comes an opportunity to step into the Premier League.
His proposed arrival at Stamford Bridge will impact most directly upon Nemanja Matic who will be allowed to leave if a suitable deal can be negotiated.
Manchester United, who were also interested in Bakayoko, could turn to Matic to solve their needs in midfield. Jose Mourinho knows all about the Serbia international.
At Chelsea, he will be expected to slot into and operate alongside Kante, which confirms Cesc Fabregas in his role on the fringes, coming off the bench to open up a tight game or starting in those games when Conte expects his team to dominate possession.
While it can been seen as a blow for Nathaniel Chalobah, it does not relegate the England Under-21 midfielder down the pecking order unless Matic stays as well.
If Matic goes, Chalobah will still be one of four contesting two places, and the most obvious like-for-like replacement if Kante or Bakayoko are absent for any reason.
With Chelsea back in the Champions League, there will be more opportunities for the fringe players.
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