West Ham United manager Slaven Bilić has heaped praise upon Marseille striker Michy Batshuayi, but insists that media speculation over a lucrative offer for his services are wide of the mark. The fledgeling Belgian international has notched 24 goals in all competitions during a difficult season at the Stade Velodrome, and his impressive goalscoring form has attracted admiring glances from clubs around Europe.
Premier League rivals Tottenham Hotspur are known to have scouted Batshuayi on several occasions this term, with Mauricio Pochettino admitting during an interview with French radio last month that he was looking to bolster his squad with a new striker and describing the 22-year-old as "a young player who has a lot of talent" who is being "logically followed by many clubs".
West Ham's interest is also well established and earlier this week. The Guardian claimed that they had looked to steal a march on fellow suitors Spurs, Liverpool, Juventus and Roma by submitting a bid worth in the region of £31.5m ($45.4m). Such a deal would represent a club record, easily eclipsing the £15m spent to sign Andy Carroll back in June 2013.
The Hammers represent an attractive proposition after a positive campaign that sees them lying sixth in the top-flight ahead of their move to the Olympic Stadium, while their ability to outbid more successful European clubs in the transfer market is made possible by the new £5.14bn TV rights deal set to kick in next season, that is worth around £81m annually to each club.
Bilić has not been shy to state his admiration for Batshuayi in the past, as his weekly column in the London Evening Standard will attest, but he denies that any big approach has taken place.
"He's playing for Marseille, a big club, scoring goals there," he was quoted as saying by Sky Sports at a press conference held prior to the Premier League visit of Swansea City. "A very young Belgium international [with] already a few years playing at the top level scoring goals either for Standard Liege or for Marseille now. He's a very good player. That's all that I can say now in this moment. But about these offers, it's simply not true what is in the papers."
Indeed, whether anyone is able to prise Batshuayi away from L'OM during the next transfer window remains to be seen. Times have been rather difficult at the nine-time Ligue 1 winners of late, with manager Michel sacked in mid-April ahead of a French Cup semi-final victory over Sochaux.
Billionaire owner Margarita Louis-Dreyfus has also announced her intention to sell the club, currently languishing in mid-table, to a new investor, although the player recently appeared in the launch of a new kit for the 2016/17 campaign and insisted that he wants to stay put.
"My future is at Marseille," he told L'Équipe. "I want to stay, I love the stadium, the fans, lots of players in this squad. I would prefer to leave this club after leaving a trace on people's minds. My story with Marseille is far from over."