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Programme Feature: Understanding Michy Batshuayi and His Dramatic Career So Far

12 February 2019

Palace made one of the biggest moves in the January transfer window by landing the Belgian hitman on loan from Chelsea, who has managed to make a splash all across Europe during his short career to date. Here, Jonathon Rogers gives Eagles fans a taste of what they can expect from their new arrival.

Michy Batshuayi certainly knows how to make a late impact. Having made a name for himself by netting goals equally important and dramatic in nature, transfer deadline day showed that he can also stun the footballing world without a goalkeeper in sight.

Last week as the clock ticked down and the metaphorical window lowered inch by inch, Sky Sports News were becoming increasingly desperate for even the smallest sliver of transfer gossip to fill airtime on a snail-paced news day, but thankfully for Jim White’s sanity the man known as Batsman came to the rescue once again.

It was around 8pm, three hours before the window closed, that a chance phone call sparked deadline day into life and suddenly Roy Hodgson found himself with a player of undoubted quality at his disposal for the remainder of the campaign.

Batshuayi may have netted a last-gasp Premier League title-clinching goal for Chelsea that added further weight to the super-sub millstone already around his neck, but the late, late show that brought him to Selhurst might be the most unexpected moment in a remarkable career to date.

His route the top has rarely been straight forward, typified by his very early days in the game. Born in Brussels in October 1993, Batshuayi’s talent quickly saw him ushered through the Belgian football pyramid as he spent time in the youth ranks of RFC Evere, RUSA Schaarbeek, Brussels FC and Anderlecht, before he finally settled at Standard Liege aged 15.

It was there that his career began to intertwine with Christian Benteke’s, who back then was struggling to carve out a career for himself. Today the pair boast56 caps and 24 goals on the international scene between them, and while hindsight is a wonderful thing it still seems incredible what Liege allowed to slip through their grasp as the pair played less than five minutes together before Benteke departed for Genk in August 2011.

Seven months previously, an 18-year-old Batshuayi had been handed his professional debut for Les Rouges following Benteke’s loan exit to KV Mechelen, paving the way for the teen to shine.

Progress was gradual at first with 21 goals coming in 69 outings in his first two years in the side, but his breakout campaign in 2013/14 saw him net that same tally in just 38 league appearances to win Belgium’s prestigious Ebony Shoe award, handed to the top-flight’s best player of African origin and previously held by Vincent Kompany, Romelu Lukaku and one time Eagle Aruna Dindane.

After his exploits in restoring Liege into title contenders, it was inevitable that European football’s biggest sharks would soon start circling and Marseille were the keenest as they searched for a replacement for an Aston Villa-bound Jordan Ayew.

£4.5 million tempted Liege to cash in on their starlet, and it was in the south of France where Batshuayi’s super-sub tag was first earned as he netted nine goals in his first campaign despite starting only six matches and total just 900 minutes of gametime.

He made a similar splash at international level in March 2015 as his and Benteke’s ships passed in the night once again. Having replaced his former and future clubmate as a 77th-minute substitute, it would take Batshuayi just three minutes to cap his Belgium debut with a goal as Cyprus were put to the sword in a Euro 2016 qualifier.

However, following Marseille boss Marcelo Bielsa’s resignation after the opening game of the Ligue 1 season, Batshuayi’s predatory instinct couldn’t be ignored any longer. With his starting spot secure, 23 goals were rattled in in 50 appearances despite grafting away in an underwhelming Marseille side who stuttered to a 13th-place finish and lost the French Cup final to Paris St Germain.

By now the hitman was being likened to former l’OM icon Didier Drogba for his deadly finishing, strong hold-up play and physicality, and he would ultimately tread the same path as the Ivorian when Chelsea came calling just after Belgium’s Euro 2016 quarter-final exit; a game in which the striker made his second appearance of the tournament as he vied with Lukaku, Divock Origi and, of course, Benteke for match action.

It was around this time that Palace first showed an interest in acquiring Batshuayi’s services with a reported £32 million bid accepted by Marseille, but the lure of the Blues proved too strong. In echoes of his Palace bow last weekend, his Chelsea debut saw him come off the bench to set up the winning goal in a 2-1 win against West Ham United, before netting as a substitute in his second league appearance as his impeccable sense of timing came to the fore once again.

Despite that encouraging start to life in England, as Antonio Conte’s team surged towards the Premier League title and Diego Costa enjoyed his best campaign in a Blue shirt, Batshuayi found himself restricted to cup outings and fleeting cameos from the bench. However, when it mattered most, he stepped up.

With time running out and Chelsea needing a goal to beat West Bromwich Albion and seal the title, Batshuayi was thrown on in desperation in the 76th minute and just six later he found himself perfectly placed to tuck home Cesar Azpilicueta’s cut-back to clinch the club’s eighth championship.

Incredibly, it took until after the title had been wrapped up for Conte to hand Batshuayi his first league start, especially when a run of four goals in next three matches took his tally to five in only 236 minutes of Premier League action, or one every 47 minutes.

Despite this impressive strike-rate, he would receive just two minutes of action as Arsenal beat the Blues in the 2017 FA Cup final, and the following campaign even 10 goals in 25 appearances in all competitions (one every 107 minutes if you’re still counting) wasn’t enough to tempt Conte to hand him regular action.

The mis-firing Alvaro Morata was instead selected to be Costa’s replacement following his return to Atletico Madrid – ironically the team Batshuayi netted a last-gasp winner against following Chelsea’s return to the UEFA Champions League.

The Belgian’s undoubted ability was still appreciated elsewhere, and with the World Cup looming and an ever-increasing competition for places in his nation’s 23-man squad, he jumped at the chance at a loan move to Borussia Dortmund just under 12 months ago.

As expected, goals followed him to Germany and a brace on his debut against Koln began a run of nine in his first 14 games, but an ankle injury cruelly cut short his season when in full flow.

Even though he had inadvertently handed Roberto Martinez a major headache, the former Everton boss kept faith in Batshuayi who had featured in half of the Red Devils’ qualifiers and he pipped Benteke to a spot on the plane to Russia.

It wasn’t the World Cup the striker had dreamed of though, as despite coming home with a bronze medal, Batshuayi’s biggest impact came in the form of a viral video clip that saw him boot the  ball off a post and into his own face celebrating Adnan Januzaj’s goal against England in the group stage.

Had Martinez not waited until the 92nd minute of the semi-final defeat to France to call for the perennial super-sub, then perhaps last summer could have been vastly different.

Following his return to England, Batshuayi would have hoped that his exploits for Dortmund combined with Conte’s dismissal would see him finally nail down a starting spot at Stamford Bridge, but those hopes were dashed as he was shipped off to Valencia on another temporary deal, only to yet again find himself warming the bench.

Even with his team failing to pull up trees in La Liga, the attacker would make just five league starts during a frustrating five months at the Mestalla, although his single league strike at the expense of Celta Vigo underlined his ability as he became the first player in the 21st century to score in La Liga, Ligue 1, the Bundesliga and the Premier League.

It is in the latter where he probably feels he has the most unfinished business, and so when a second opportunity to move to Palace – albeit temporarily this time – came about a little over a week ago, the 25-year-old jumped at the chance to improve on his hugely impressive record of seven goals in just four Premier League starts.

While he once again found himself taking to the field as a substitute when making his Eagles bow against Fulham last week, it was because he had only pulled on a Palace training kit for the first time 24 hours earlier having jetted over from Spain.

But yet again, he needed little time to make an impact. Five minutes into wearing red and blue for the first time, some dazzling feet in the Cottagers’ box ended with Sergio Rico parrying his rocket of a shot, allowing Jeffrey Schlupp to tap home.

It remains to be seen just when Hodgson will opt to start Batshuayi for the first time, or when the long awaited club partnership with Benteke can properly blossom, but whenever that time comes you can bet that the man known as Batsman won’t be hanging around to make a lasting impression in south London.

For more in-depth reads such as this, plus interviews, other features, flash-backs, stats and much more, make sure to get your hands on a copy of the official Crystal Palace programme at every home match. They can be bought from vendors around the outside of Selhurst Park for £3.50 or online for just £1.49.

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