Devil’s Advocate: Cautious approach correct as No.10 targets filter – Maldini cannot afford a mistake

By Oliver Fisher -

The 2021 summer transfer window officially opened yesterday, and many deem it to be one of the most important for Milan in many a year.

The Rossoneri managed to not only secure a return to the Champions League after a seven-year absence, but they also secured a second-placed finish with the 2-0 victory against Atalanta in the final round of the season, the club’s highest since the 2011-12 campaign.

After mounting a Scudetto challenge for most of the season despite numerous injury problems and the subsequent selection crises, the general consensus is that Paolo Maldini and Ricky Massara certainly do not need to overhaul the squad, but rather add complimentary pieces and bolster depth where possible.

However, certain situations have arisen that force them to act decisively. Now the dust has settled after Hakan Calhanoglu’s decision to cross the Navigli and join rivals Internazionale, attention must turn to how Stefano Pioli will have to work with in the attacking department next season.

In addition to adding two new full-backs, a central midfielder and securing the returns of useful players like Sandro Tonali and Brahim Diaz, there is no doubting that securing a quality number 10 is of paramount importance. What is interesting though is that nothing absolutely concrete has come out about who could be targeted to replace the Turk.

Several reliable sources have reported that Milan are in no rush to sign a new attacking midfielder despite the fact that preseason begins on July 8, but instead the management are likely to monitor the situation of the big clubs and their potential cast-offs, with players like Hakim Ziyech of Chelsea, Rafinha of PSG and James Rodriguez of Everton all mentioned.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the players linked is that none of them seem to be an obvious fit. The strongest rumours have been regarding a potential €10m swoop for James Rodriguez, but that in itself is a head scratcher. The Colombian has name value and unquestionable ability, but a questionable injury record that comes with a high salary and doubts about whether he can play the 10 role in the way that Pioli wants with regards to defensive coverage.

Ziyech seems to be one that has most united the fanbase in terms of him being a good potential option for the role, but he is coming off the back of a confidence-denting season with Chelsea and given they paid over €40m to sign him from Ajax, there has to be a doubt about the big investment that would be needed to bring him to Italy, unless a loan with option were possible.

There is an almost unanimous agreement that Rafinha of PSG would not bring the quality needed to make a real impact, especially after he struggled to do so at Inter, while the links with other profiles such as Papu Gomez and Josip Ilicic throw up question marks about Elliott Management’s philosophy given their age.

One profile stands out above the rest at the moment: Marcel Sabitzer of RB Leipzig. There is no doubting the quality that the Austria captain possesses as he has been one of the best creative players in the Bundesliga for some time now, having amassed 52 goals and 42 assists from 227 appearances for Leipzig.

Not only that, but he is used to a pressing system and knows how to contribute in both phases of play, which is something that made Calhanoglu a sort of ‘comfort blanket’ for Pioli. Given that his contract expires in 2022, and that he has a low salary, there are definitely implications that it could be a cut-price deal too.

There is a very strong possibility however that the name Maldini and Massara really want ahead of next season has not made it to the newspaper headlines just yet, such is the fluid nature of the mercato. It must also be said that taking time over the decision is a right they have earned based on previous business (look at the Tomori deal, for example) and throwing caution to the wind could prove to be incredibly beneficial.

Why? Well the reasons are two-fold. The first is that this summer – more so than any that have preceded – promises to be one of opportunity, where certain chances to secure quality players through advantageous formulas arise out of nowhere. A lot of big clubs need to sell or at least lighten their wage bill, and Milan can benefit from that.

The second reason is that this is a signing that Maldini simply cannot afford to get wrong. The beating heart of Pioli’s 4-2-3-1 system and the way that the team play – that is pressing hard to win the ball back high up the pitch and countering quickly – revolves around the double pivot and having a number 10 who can pull the strings.

Two months is a long time when it comes to the transfer window, as Milanisti know better than anyone. Yes, in an ideal world the entire squad would be in place for the start of preseason in six days, but that isn’t how things work. Not all of the pieces in a jigsaw are inserted simultaneously, but the most satisfaction always comes from that final piece.


READ MORE: Inconsistency and lost capital – The pros and cons of Calhanoglu leaving Milan for Inter

Tags AC Milan Hakim Ziyech James Rodriguez Marcel Sabitzer

7 Comments

  1. abanjo2003 says:

    Sabitzer would be a perfect long time solution.

  2. crorossonero says:

    Iličić or Tadić are both top players that shouldn’t cost too much, with Diaz as backup that should be enough. Diaz should be able to be the 1st choice withing 2 seasons, Iličić is already playing in Italy, wouldn’t need adapting and would definitely want to play in a top club for the first time in his career.

    1. abanjo2003 says:

      Ilicic won’t track back which is bad for us. Tadic is aged and a short time deal should be ideal for us. Ilicic is good for squad depth but not for a starter. Diaz is a time bomb. If he exploded he will immediately will go back Real Madrid.

  3. Zoro Caloro says:

    Sabitzer is the best option of the 3. Also look at Castrovilli since he didn’t have a great season should get a better price now.

  4. Ahmed Mohammed says:

    Ziyech is the best of them all but he too will leave for the Afcon or the Olympics some way along the season,this is hard ooo

  5. I am Forzza says:

    Milan took logically the cheapest option James Rodriguez of Everton. Milan can’t buy anyone anymore because he has no money. We will watch strange Milan with strange people in the club’s management. I can’t believe Maldini is involved in this terror against players and a club with a great reputation. Milan has now fallen low and it is sad to watch the departure of all the big guys. Milan bought James Roddrigez from Everton for 10 million and pays James 6 million a year and they didn’t want to pay Colhanoglu 5 million, where the bill is here and which here is a fool

  6. Adrian_Pato says:

    Nonsense. What not Messi??!?

    Milan should have paid Hakan what he wanted. Bargaining over 1 mln euro’s wage pay, will cost Milan much much more. That is, If Elliott allows spending more for contracts to those big names, more that they allowed in Hakan contract talks case.

    Otherwise, all “big name” signings are pure media nonsense. And Milan’s true focus will be on aging players with low contracts. Giroud-Ceballos types, if Milan is lucky.

    Selling Hauge and-or Leao, would also be uneconomic, it would maybe generate a little more spending money, but in reality… ligue 2 scarlets (to replace Leao) would be a long shot, and the earnings would not allow for stronger replacements.

    Leao should stay definately, Kessie should get his contract, whatever wage he demands he has – he is the core of Milans future. Romagnoli should get a ultimatum, prolong his contract in two weeks, of leave before the transfer deadline is over. This is a must, if Milan wants to avoid the Gigio scenario to repeat, which is very likely considering Riola’s approach.

    One idea would be to discard the search for a Hakan replacement – all together, and change the system to 3-4-3 *Tuchel type (which Pioli sometimes uses in offensive phases already anyway), with a right striker position to be strengthend, with a Berardi type striker.

    ..or to change to 4-3-3 *Mancini’s Italy type, with again the right striker to be added, and with Tonali taking up a more demanding central role in between Kessie and Bennacer. No Hakan replacement needend in both those scenario’s.

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