First-touch goal the catalyst for Batshuayi's move to Chelsea

Belgium forward Michy Batshuayi celebrates his goal during the 4-0 Euro 2016 victory against Hungary in Toulouse on June 26. The 22-year-old is already being compared with Didier Drogba.
Belgium forward Michy Batshuayi celebrates his goal during the 4-0 Euro 2016 victory against Hungary in Toulouse on June 26. The 22-year-old is already being compared with Didier Drogba.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

CHANTILLY • As auditions go, Michy Batshuayi could not have planned his any better.

With Belgium leading 1-0 in the 75th minute of their last-16 Euro 2016 tie against Hungary on Sunday, the 22-year-old of Congolese heritage who spent some of his childhood at Brussels' notorious Molenbeek district was summoned from the bench by coach Marc Wilmots.

He had yet to feature in any of Belgium's three group-stage matches but what happened in the next 94 seconds could change Batshuayi's life forever.

He headed straight into the penalty area and scored after the Hungary defenders failed to clear a corner properly and cut off Eden Hazard's subsequent cross.

"When you score with your first touch in the first match of the first Euro of your life #total pride," Batshuayi wrote on his Twitter account that evening.

Having only decided to represent the country of his birth in March last year after being courted by the Democratic Republic of Congo coach, Florent Ibengé, for several months, it was the third time he had scored for Belgium in only six appearances despite starting just once - a friendly against Finland at the start of June.

A little more than 48 hours later, the news broke that English club Chelsea had secured a deal for Batshuayi worth an initial €40 million (S$59.8 million) to Marseille, beating off West Ham, Crystal Palace, Tottenham Hotspur and Juventus, among others.

But, at around €3 million more than the price they paid Marseille for Didier Drogba in 2004, it remains to be seen whether he offers value for money.

While West Ham's signing of Dimitri Payet last summer for £10.7 million (S$19.3 million) showed there were bargains to be found in the French market, the onset of the Premier League's new television deal has resulted in the cost of Ligue 1 players skyrocketing off the charts.

Comparisons between Drogba and Batshuayi are inevitable.

But, while the Ivorian was already 26 by the time he moved to London, the Belgian still has time to develop what some critics believe is a less-than-reliable record in front of goal, despite 33 goals in 78 appearances for Marseille.

Standing at a shade under 1.82m, Batshuayi is also not quite the physical specimen of Drogba or Everton's Romelu Lukaku - his main rival for a starting spot with Belgium - but does possess lightning pace and excellent technical ability with both feet.

Antonio Conte, the new Chelsea coach, is expected to operate with the 3-5-2 system deployed with such success at Euro 2016 with the Azzurri when he finally arrives at Stamford Bridge and would therefore require a partner for his first major signing, although Batshuayi has played most of his career as a solo striker.

Whether that is Spain's Álvaro Morata - now waiting to discover whether he is surplus to requirements at Real Madrid - or someone else will become clear soon enough.

But, in an era where old-school No. 9s have become a dying breed, for now Chelsea must feel confident that they have stolen a march on their rivals with the signing of one of Europe's most promising striking talents.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2016, with the headline 'First-touch goal the catalyst for Batshuayi's move to Chelsea'. Print Edition | Subscribe