With club action on pause and the European Championships in full flow, the eyes of the footballing world are upon players representing their respective nations, something which creates a vacuum for swift conclusions.
Two of the players that are dominating the Milan-themed narrative at the moment are Italy’s Manuel Locatelli and Turkey’s Hakan Calhanoglu, and perhaps for obvious reasons given that they represent two ends of the spectrum in terms of their performances so far.
Starting with the latter, Calhanoglu went into the Euros with his future clouded by uncertainty given the fact he has not yet accepted the renewal offer from Milan and instead seems determined to test the market.
The playmaker and his agent Gordon Stipic have quite clearly set a figure between them that they think his services are worth and that is why, up until this point, he has not yet put pen to paper and extended his four-year stay at San Siro.
With a major tournament to look forward to in which the eyes of not only millions of fans but also club officials and scouts will be fixated, the 27-year-old took a gamble and decided to wait until after the Euros to decide his fixture, something he admitted himself in the media.
This appears to have backfired hugely for him, as he followed up an anonymous display in the tournament opener against Italy with a wasteful and lethargic display in the 2-0 defeat to Wales which has seen them crash out of the tournament after two losses and zero goals scored in their first two fixtures.
Milan sent a very strong message by choosing to move on from a top talent in Gianluigi Donnarumma because they did not believe he was worth the demands, yet for some reason they appear willing to wait for Calhanoglu’s response. There are some supporters calling for the club to pull the offer entirely or offer less money, and that in itself should serve as a damning indication of how far his stock has fallen.
The general consensus is that if Hakan were to now renew, the news would be met with more anger and disappointment than any positive notions. Perhaps the management are working on a replacement at this very moment, in which case Calhanoglu could be left in a situation where he has no offers because he decided to risk it all. That should be a lesson akin to the old adage ‘the grass isn’t always greener’.
One player who that saying does not extend to is Manuel Locatelli, however. He has been the star of the show for Italy at Euro 2020 thus far and scored a brace against Switzerland last night to earn himself Man of the Match. It caused many fans of other clubs and pundits to question how and why Milan let such a talent go.
There needs to be some contextual understanding to explain the background of Locatelli’s exit. He burst only the scene properly in the 2016-17 season, scoring the winner against Juventus and looking like a bright but very raw 18-year-old Regista.
Despite huge initial hype, the performances of the teenager began to grow in their inconsistency, while the club were desperate to return to the Champions League and – some might say wrongly – decided to rely on more experienced profiles like Jose Sosa, Mati Fernandez and later Tiemoue Bakayoko.
Locatelli fell down the pecking order and it very quickly became apparently that he had a market in Serie A, so Milan suggested he went out on loan. The player, however, asked for a transfer and joined Sassuolo on loan with an obligation to buy.
At Sassuolo he has thrived, as they are a club who play entertaining football but ultimately have a youth-centred philosophy with less expectations and less ambitions, which equated to reduced pressure.
The coach could afford him to be inconsistent which he initially was, while Roberto Di Zerbi took his game to the next level and now, a whole five years after his Milan debut, he looks like a near-complete player.
This is where Milan have been criticised in recent years: not letting young and talented players grow because the desperation for success convinced them to do otherwise. This season for example we have seen Rade Krunic used all over the pitch rather than youth who actually play those positions, Samu Castillejo constantly selected off the bench over Jens Petter Hauge, Pierre Kalulu was used initially and then disappeared, while Lorenzo Colombo was sent out despite bright signs.
Interestingly, the Rossoneri currently have another raw but talented young defensive midfielder in Sandro Tonali. His adaptation to a top club was not smooth given that at Brescia he played in a worse team and a different system, but the general opinion is that with patience he will grow and grow.
Who knows what Tonali could be at 23? If Milan have learned any lessons, it’s that patience – to an extent – is a necessary virtue. Making the same mistake twice would be criminal.