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  • No matter where the well-traveled Michy Batshuayi goes, he carries the same mentality and attitude and always seems to wind up with unique opportunities–or at the very least something entertaining to tweet about.
By Luis Miguel Echegaray
October 01, 2018

Michy Batshuayi, as is often the case, can barely contain his excitement.

This time, it's about on-field matters. The Belgian striker is relishing the opportunity to face off against countrymen Romelu Lukaku and Marouane Fellaini in the Champions League. Valencia, the well-traveled Batshauyi's club this season, meets Manchester United on Tuesday at Old Trafford.

“We spoke about it during the international break and I’m thrilled to play against them,” the forward, who turns 25 on Tuesday, told SI.com. “We’ll see how it goes but between us, I hope we win.”

Batshuayi is currently at Valencia on a season-long loan from Chelsea, representing his fourth club since 2016. Yet the Batsman is still the same Batsman. The same guy who still loves SpongeBob SquarePants (“SpongeBob hasta la muerte!” he says with excitement) carries a competitive drive that recently helped him become the first player to score in the Premier League, Ligue 1, La Liga and Bundesliga this century.

He's outspoken about racism in the game, seems to become a fan favorite wherever he goes and is always quick to poke fun–especially on social media. And regardless of where he goes, there always seems to be opportunity.

The newest is one is to help Valencia bounce back after his side fell to Juventus in the club's opening match of the Champions League–all while doing so at the expense of his friends.

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“Playing against [Manchester] United is always a big challenge, but everybody can beat the best teams, that’s the beauty of the Champions League," Batshuayi said. "Look at Lyon and how they defeated Man City, one of the favorites to win this competition. There is no rule, you just have to play your heart out.”

Tuesday’s anticipated reunion with Lukaku and Fellaini also brings back the memories from Batshuayi’s summer, one in which Belgium secured third place at the World Cup in Russia, the nation's best finish ever.

“Oh man! We had a great competition, a unique competition I really have to say," Batshuayi said. "Unfortunately, we lost against France [in the semifinals], and we were so disappointed, but we found resources to win a second time against England, so I really think we deserved third place. Personally, it was a little frustrating, because I didn’t play that much. You know I’m a competitor and I like to play. I scored [vs. Tunisia], but I could have scored more.”

Batshuayi's most famous kick wound up with the world laughing at his expense, after he booted a ball off the post–and had it ricochet off his own face–following Adnan Januzaj's group-winning goal in the first matchup vs. England.

But all of this is vintage Batshuayi. A player who inhabits an overwhelming competitive spirit and the ability to laugh–even at himself, when required.

They're characteristics he’s needed throughout his nomadic career, one in which he has needed to prove his worth with several clubs.

Growing up in Brussels, Batshuayi moved around six youth academies until he finally settled with Standard Liege–not that his first few years there came without drama.

“It was to tear his hair out,” said his former youth coach and club coordinator Christophe Dessy, speaking to German magazine Kicker. “He's certainly one of the most complicated players we've ever had."

Batshuayi admits much of the instability was his fault, as his teenage years weren’t exactly the most stable.

“Back then I was not an angel, to say it politely," he told Sport/Foot Magazine earlier this year.

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But once maturity began to take shape, the goals followed. He scored 21 goals in 36 appearances in his last season with Standard Liege, prompting a move to Marseille. His stay there lasted two years. In his last season with the French club, he recorded 26 goals in all competitions, which was an impressive achievement for a 23-year-old.

After receiving interest from reportedly more than 15 clubs, Batshuayi joined Chelsea in the summer of 2016 for a reported $46 million and became former Blues manager Antonio Conte’s first signing. But once again, settling became an obstacle, and after two seasons of playing a bit role–which included scoring the goal that sealed Chelsea's 2016-17 title–Batshuayi was loaned out to Borussia Dortmund earlier this past January for a short spell, where he became a fan favorite while scoring nine goals in 14 appearances.

But the run came to an end in April, when Batshuayi injured his ankle ligaments and was ruled out for the remainder of the season, putting his World Cup dreams temporarily on hold.

The striker, as he often does, posted a message on social media, putting on a brave face despite the setback.  

Fortunately for Batshuayi, he healed fast enough to make Belgium’s team for Russia and when looking back, the young star doesn’t take that for granted as working under Roberto Martinez has been one of the most satisfactory experiences of his career.

“[Martinez] is such a hard worker and loves what he does, you have no idea,” he said. “He’s surrounded with a great staff in every level, I mean, just look what we’ve accomplished in Russia. And it’s not just the World Cup, competition after competition, we’re getting better.”

As a striker, having Thierry Henry as a member of the coaching team was also very important for Batshuayi, who has been able to soak in every detailed note from the retired French star.

“When I was a kid I watched his games and what he has accomplished in this game is more than inspiring," Batshuayi said. "He gives me a lot of tips on how to play certain types of defenders and on my runs with or without the ball. I’m so thankful that he’s here with us.”

Batshuayi's ambition and outspokenness isn't limited to what he does on the field. Born to Congolese parents, Batshuayi feels a strong connection to his African roots and often uses his platform to support a stance against racism in the game. This past February, during Borussia Dortmund’s Europa League clash with Atalanta, the striker accused fans of the Italian club of making monkey noises in the stands. A month later, however, UEFA fined both clubs for crowd disturbance and use of pyrotechnics, but the racism allegations were ignored, forcing Batshuayi to criticize the governing body.

The player recognizes the attempts from UEFA and FIFA to eradicate racism in the game, but still believes more can be done.

“They have a good campaign against racism and are trying their best to get rid of it in our sport, and it’s a long process, but I think we're heading the right way," he said. “However, we can do better. There are still unacceptable behaviors in stadiums, on the pitch and inside certain clubs so governing bodies need to punish every club, supporters or whoever financially and/or sportingly. We have to make examples, so people know our sport will stay clean from racism.”

For Batshuayi, the real solution comes from within our own communities and teaching the fundamental values of diversity at a very young age.

“We need to begin the process with the young’uns at school," he said. "It all goes through education, and we need to teach the future generations how to live together with our differences. Otherwise, the struggle continues.”

Back on the field, all eyes are on Tuesday, a clash with Manchester United and Batshuayi’s attempt to help Valencia return to the glory years of European excellence, and with the players that the team has, he is confident.

“I’ve mixed with the team pretty quick, and it’s a group with a lot of quality. They’ve done a good market, managing to keep Rodrigo, Geoffrey Kondogbia and brought in quality like Kevin Gameiro and Goncalo Guedes,” he says with optimism. Despite the club’s poor start to the campaign, Valencia recorded its first win of the season–after five draws and a loss–this past Saturday.

“I just think we have to learn how to play all together and be more efficient, but I’m pretty confident, because we show a lot of quality train very hard, so very soon, we will take off and find our rhythm.”

For now, Chelsea is his parent club and recently he has suggested his intent to return back to the Premier League club after the loan is completed, but that’s for another time. Everything right now is about a temporary return to England and Tuesday's trip to Old Trafford.

“We have to put Valencia back up where we belong. Last time we were [La Liga] champions was 2004 and 2002 before that, and since 2012, Valencia is out of the top three. We have to come back bigger and stronger.”

Batshuayi may have the appearance of a traveling man who carries the baggage of being unable to find consistency in his career, but when one looks at his productivity and substantial resume to begin his career, it’s hard to argue against the value and pride in the shirt he brings to the table–no matter where he winds up next.

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