At first glance, Leeds United’s link with Chelsea striker Michy Batshuayi could be compared to those involving Edinson Cavani and Zlatan Ibrahimovic; just a big name being linked to the club because, well, why not?
However, it looks as though there could be more to the rumour than meets the eye, particularly considering Marcelo Bielsa reportedly recommended his former Marseille forward to then-Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino in 2019 (Derniere Heure, via The Boot Room).
Previous interactions between El Loco and Batshuayi have definitely sparked some interest among Leeds fans, and the 26-year-old would represent a serious coup for their newly promoted side.
Leeds United being bombarded by a number of French agents in recent days offering their clients to the club - Michy Batshuayi (Chelsea) is one literally 100s of players being proposed to Director of Football Victor Orta, according to sources contacted by Get French Football News.— Get French Football News (@GFFN) August 4, 2020
It was not all sunshine and rainbows between the pair at Marseille, though. Then an exciting prospect awaiting his chance on the big stage, Batshuayi was made to wait, with France international Andre Pierre Gignac in electric form at the start of Bielsa’s solitary season at Marseille in 2014/15.
While David Hockaday and Darko Milanic were swept through the revolving doors at Elland Road, Les Olympiens were sitting pretty at the summit of Ligue 1, but Michy’s role was limited - by January, he had scored just twice in 10 appearances, the majority of those coming off the bench.
And it might not just have been an undroppable teammate that was keeping him out of the starting eleven; his style of play during the early stages of his career did not particularly suit Bielsa, with the young Belgian often playing too selfishly to seek out teammates while in possession (Outside Of The Boot).
The campaign was by no means a disaster for either party, as Batshuayi registered nine league goals while Marseille secured a top four finish despite a poor run-in. There was a sense of awkwardness between player and manager, though, as the Argentine boss rarely spoke to the young forward on the training ground (Onze Mondial, via The Boot Room).
“He didn’t speak to me, he never spoke to me, it pissed me off because I was doing sick in training, I worked like crazy, but he didn’t talk to me. And yet he always took other people to talk to them. In fact, it is all or nothing. Either he picks you up and talks to you for 40 minutes, or he doesn’t talk to you at all.
“But looking back, I tell myself he knew who to do this with. Some needed this support. Me, he understood my personality, he knew that I could draw on my resources. I’ll tell you something.
“One day he told me something shocking. For several months, he hardly spoke to me. And the time he came to talk to me, he just said, ‘When you go out of here, you’re gonna go for 40 million’ He just told me that. In my head, I said to myself, ‘But he’s crazy’. In the end, he was right.”
Times have changed though, and the 26-year-old would be a marquee signing at Leeds, in need of plenty of interactions with Bielsa to ensure he could fulfill the role of a lone striker at Elland Road.
The apparent selfishness of the forward was diminished in 2015/16 following Bielsa’s shock departure after one game, and he notched nine assists along with 17 goals in the French top tier, albeit in a two-striker system.
Those exploits earned him a move to Chelsea, where, despite failing to hold down a starting spot, Batshuayi has 25 goals in 77 appearances to his name - a record that becomes more impressive when you realise most of those matches started with him on the bench.
Loan spells with the likes of Borussia Dortmund and most recently Crystal Palace also showcased the Belgian’s goalscoring ability, yielding nine in 14 games for the former and six in 13 for the latter.
With his 27th birthday approaching, Batshuayi has developed into a well-rounded forward in the sense that he is capable of creating chances as well as being the fox in the box, and holding up the ball as well as making dribbles.
This would benefit the Whites in more ways than one; Michy represents a more reliable goalscoring threat than current forward Patrick Bamford, and while last season’s top scorer still deserves another shot in the Premier League, his conversion rate in the Championship left a lot to be desired.
Meanwhile, his creativity could also prove vital with the aging Pablo Hernandez likely to struggle to complete 90 minutes on a regular basis, particularly with the likes Jack Harrison cutting in from out wide and Luke Ayling and company overlapping at full-back to fill the final third with white shirts.
The either-footed forward would be a top acquisition for the Peacocks, even before Bielsa could have his second attempt at moulding him to his liking. The fact that, according to Phil Hay, Leeds believe they could land the forward for £15m with the Belgium international only having one-year left on his contract makes it an even more enticing move.
So, while Batshuayi’s previous season under Bielsa resulted in him completing 90 minutes just twice, a second spell could prove to be much more fruitful, as the Peacocks look ahead to their first season in the Premier League since 2004.