Michy Batshuayi, the jewel in Standard’s crown
January could be a very difficult time for league leaders Standard Liège as their attacking trio of Batshuayi, Imoh Ezekiel and Paul-José M’Poku make kissing faces at Europe’s elite at the hope of a big fat contract being placed in front of their eyes.
M’Poku has had previous in Europe, trialling with Tottenham Hotspur and failing to make his mark at Leyton Orient. Since then, the Belgian has found his feet at Standard and looks more than ready to make a second crack at England should a club come calling. Ezekiel has been a steady hand up front when relied upon, but it has been Batshuayi who has got everyone in Europe hot under the collar.
After securing a brace away to Lierse in a 5-0 rout (although he should probably have been sent off almost immediately after the commencement of the game) Batshuayi has catapulted himself to the top of the scoring charts with twelve goals in seventeen games. That Anderlecht’s top goal scorers are midfielder Sacha Klještan and striker Alexander Mitrović on seven each shows how imperative a regular goal scorer is to a title challenging team, with the Brussels club struggling in fifth and six points off the summit.
Club president Roland Duchâtelet has insisted that Batshuayi is going nowhere for the time being. Duchâtelet, who has not endeared himself to the clubs fans recently with chants against his presidency often be heard around the ground at matches, has claimed that the talented youngster is not leaving this season – but made no assurances for what will be happening at the end of the season.
But should Batshuayi, or either Ezekiel or M’Poku find themselves courted by the bigger European clubs – and given the start of the season they have had then there is no reason they won’t be – then it could threaten to unravel all of Standard’s good work so far. Last season Batshuayi was interesting the likes of Swansea City and come January the admiration of Arsenal could well be turned into something more concrete; a ringing endorsement for a 20-year-old who has been beset by some disciplinary issues earlier in his career.
Released from Anderlecht as a youth due to their inability to curb his raucous temperament it has been at Liége where he has found his home, but he has been lucky with his coaches. He was given his initial chance under José Riga and gave us a brief glimpse of what he could do. However he was not in favour with Ron Jans during his brief tenure soon after, but seemed to be in the good books of Mircea Rednic and is given constant game time under current boss Guy Luzon. That his behavioural issues aren’t as big an issue any longer is also in part down to his own growth and maturity, a real understanding that he is a prodigious young striker with the world at his feet and it wouldn’t do to be seen as spoilt and rebellious any longer. Batshuayi is now on the long road to representing himself and his country as a consummate professional who does his talking on the pitch.
What any team can expect if they were to bring in Batshuayi is a player laden with talent and skill, speed in abundance that would rival Theo Walcott on the Arsenal flank as they hit teams on speedy counter attacks but also a rare composure in front of goals that belies his young age. Though with the positive also comes the drawbacks, and this goes for M’Poku and Ezekiel too. When Standard have found themselves struggling in games – which has been a more regular occurrence recently – then all the attacking players want to become the hero. It is not uncommon to see Batshuayi get the ball outside the area, put his head down, run at the defenders and then shoot high and wide while better options flap their arms in exasperation. You can see the idea form in his head: he collects the ball from about thirty yards out, beats a man and then thunders a shot into the top corner but the reality is usually so very different.
We shouldn’t be surprised though. He is a striker and it is their wont to score that picturesque winning goal and you would assume under the more experienced tutelage of a Premier League manager, and with more capable players around him, a player like Batshuayi would soon learn to see the better options open up in front of him and his decision making would similarly improve. He is far from the finished article, but his raw ability and sheer determination to succeed will undoubtedly put him in good stead should he choose to make the jump to Germany, England or Spain this January despite what Duchâtelet may be saying in the press.
With three talented players all in the sights of others, what are the chances they leave in January? The answer is quite simple – slim to none – and if anyone does leave it will probably be M’Poku who is reportedly refusing to sign a new contract with Standard. Although he will be available for free in the summer as his contract will expire, a team may look to avoid any contract wars and pay a nominal fee now to avoid the messiness later. It seems quite unlikely that Batshuayi will leave just yet. He has signed a contract until 2018 and his importance to the club mean they are unlikely to want him to go just yet unless for a sizable fee. And if Arsenal are the intended target then despite their shortage of man power up front they would be unlikely to throw Batshuayi into the fire just yet; they will see him as a long term plan and purchasing him in the summer will make no difference to them than January.
If it was Batshuayi who was to leave, then it may not be a total disaster for Standard. Igor De Camargo has stepped up lately and managed to score against Esbjerg in the Europa League and also netted in that 5-0 demolition of Lierse in his last two matches for the club. Despite De Camargo being a totally different type of player to Batshuayi, a more generic target man to the youngsters counter punching flair, there may still be hope for the league leaders should Standard lose their talismanic striker sooner rather than later.