Tiemoue Bakayoko: Chelsea, Man Utd target influenced by Makelele, Toure

The article first appeared on ESPN FC on January 5, 2017.

Only the most fervent followers of French football would have turned their head to gaze had Monaco midfielder Tiemoue Bakayoko passed them in the street six months ago.

But the 22-year-old has been linked with Chelsea and Manchester United, and with good reason. After two torrid years in the principality, the summer departure of Jeremy Toulalan and a change in his own attitude, Bakayoko has played a starring role in Ligue 1 and the UEFA Champions League this term.

And if either club gets their hands on the athletic defensive midfielder this summer, they owe a big merci to Claude Makelele.

Paris born, Rennes raised

A native of the French capital, Bakayoko, who wears the No. 14 shirt in reference to the Paris arrondissement in which he was born, might have had a different career trajectory but for a broken leg suffered as a youngster.

The injury, which sidelined him for eight months, meant a place at the prestigious Clairefontaine academy passed him by. Instead, he joined Rennes in 2008, and the Breton soil was to provide the fertile ground in which his talent flourished just as many stars -- such as Sylvain Wiltord, Jimmy Briand, and Yoann Gourcuff -- before him.

Rough diamond

Though a rising star on the pitch, Bakayoko was far from certain to make the grade with his behaviour off it a hindrance to his career.

"I wasn't very serious or focussed at school, so I did quite a few stupid things," Bakayoko said as a 17-year-old in 2011, adding Rennes' under-15 coach Yannick Menu was -- and remains -- a significant influence on him. "He often put me back on the right track at certain times. And thanks to him I was able to develop as an adolescent and as a footballer by changing my behaviour. Still today, he continues to support me by calling me often. He's very important for me."

Menu's efforts were worth it as Bakayoko was drafted into the first-team squad by Philippe Montanier, now Nottingham Forest manager, and handed a Ligue 1 debut in August 2013.

A few months later, a three-year professional contract was Bakayoko's, and at the end of the season -- and after just 24 top-flight appearances -- he was on his way to Monaco in an €8 million deal.

Nightmare debut

The move to the principality looked to be a gamble for both player and club. Initially, it was one that even the most optimistic of patrons at the famous Monte Carlo casino would not have backed to be a success.

On his Ligue 1 debut for the club, the summer arrival lasted barely half an hour before he was substituted in a miserable 2-1 defeat to Lorient, which marked the start of a turbulent relationship with coach Leonardo Jardim.

"From then on, something was a little broken between him and me," Bakayoko told L'Equipe in December.

A tug-of-war between the pair ensued, one that only Jardim could win. After playing just 31 Ligue 1 games in his first two seasons, Bakayoko finally came to realise his actions needed a swift and radical revision if he was to exploit his talent at the Stade Louis II.

"It was hard during two years that have served as a lesson to me. I know how I have to behave," said Bakayoko, who repainted his pink Porsche 4x4 a more subtle black and swapped a luxurious house for a more sobre apartment as part of his own makeover.

"I don't regret these two years, they have shaped me. Today, I'm ready to take up any challenge."

Made by Makelele

While his old mentor from Rennes, Menu, can take some of the credit, the lion's share goes to Makelele.

The former Chelsea and Real Madrid midfielder was brought to Monaco in a coaching role in January 2016. Although his own rocky relationship with Jardim meant he left last summer, the impact he had on Bakayoko is still being felt.

"He told me that I had a tendency to get distracted. It was true," Bakayoko told L'Equipe after heeding the words of the man who defined the defensive midfielder's role. "I took too many risks, but when you play in this position, you have to be calm and effective. He helped me channel myself."

While Makelele's advice has helped shape the Bakayoko of today, as a youngster, he dreamt of playing the more marauding game of Yaya Toure.

"If there's one player I admire, it's Yaya Toure," he said of the Manchester City and Ivory Coast star in 2011. "Because he has everything I would like to have in my game one day."

Elephant or Bleu?

While Makelele's influence may mean Bakayoko will not be as adventurous on the field as Toure, he may yet emulate his boyhood hero in playing for Ivory Coast.

Though he has represented France right up to U21 level, his family origins mean he could feature for Les Elephants. His brother was invited to see the African champions in training in October while, on a recent visit to the west African country for charity work, Bakayoko was shown the nation's sporting project by the Ivorian Sports Minister himself.

"I still haven't decided between the Ivorian national team and the French," Bakayoko said in November.