Devil’s Advocate: Pioli’s decision to exclude Hauge provokes anger – why he has got it wrong

By Oliver Fisher -

There has been an outpouring of emotion on social media following Stefano Pioli’s decision to exclude Jens Petter Hauge from the Europa League squad for the knockout stages.

Without wanting to create a negative atmosphere in a delicate moment or blow anything out of proportion, the vast majority of the reaction from fans towards the decision has been negative, but first let’s explain the situation.

For the group stages, Pioli named 23 players in his List A squad for the Europa League with three List B players – namely Gianluigi Donnarumma, Matteo Gabbia and Daniel Maldini – who had come through the Rossoneri’s Primavera system.

UEFA have a quota system in place though whereby you can only name a certain number of players who did not come through academies in the country of that club (Italy, in this case). Due to the fact Andrea Conti, Mateo Musacchio and Leo Duarte left in the summer, it means Milan have one less List A spot in their squad due to the exit of the former.

Rade Krunic, Jens Petter Hauge and Soualiho Meite were among the obvious candidates to be cut from that last spot, and last night it was confirmed that the Norwegian has been chosen.

Trying to get inside Pioli’s head for a moment, there is perhaps some tactical sense to his decision.

Krunic offers cover both as an attacking midfielder, holding midfielder and even a winger if needed – at least on paper – while Soualiho Meite is a new signing who is an out-and-out defensive midfielder who is the deputy to Franck Kessie, so his presence was virtually guaranteed. Furthermore, Hauge can only really play wide on the left, the spot Ante Rebic and Rafael Leao occupy ahead of him now they are fully fit.

However, there is a very solid and compelling case that Hauge should be in over Krunic. First of all, the Bosnia international is at best the fifth-choice defensive midfielder on the depth chart (perhaps even Davide Calabria is ahead now) and the third-choice attacking midfielder, so in essence he should not really play unless things have gone very badly on the injury front.

We know that Pioli is an admirer of Krunic, but the bottom line is that he is unlikely to have a future at the club beyond the summer, given that he has become a square peg in a round hole; a player who doesn’t really fit anywhere rather than one that genuinely fits multiple roles.

Moreover, what kind of message does it send to a 21-year-old winger who has not only been impressive in European competition so far this season, but is actually Milan’s top scorer in the Europa League?

The papers this morning are claiming Hauge has accepted and understood the choice of Pioli and the coaching staff with great professionalism, which he had to really, but deep down he is understandably feeling disappointment.

Yes, he has been disappointing in his last couple of league starts (or rather, not put in a position to succeed really), yet Europe has been his elixir. Three goals in the group stages including the clincher at Celtic Park, a sublime winner in the return game against the Scottish champions and the only goal in a 1-0 victory away in Prague that ended up sealing top spot in the group.

It is not a very good message to send, and the reaction seen from supporters is very much a cocktail of anger, confusion and sadness that a player who has six goals in the Europa League this season has been left out in favour of a man in Krunic who is best remembered for his disastrous outing at San Siro against Celtic in which his giveaways cost two goals.

From a tactical point of view, who’s to say that Hauge wouldn’t have got his chance? We know by now that Leao and Rebic are also considered centre-forward options too, so there may well have been an opportunity for the former Bodo/Glimt man to come on and offer something different. To be creative and direct, bold and exuberant, because that’s what we have seen so far.

His defensive work-rate also deserves a mention, too. Hauge can often be seen tracking back from his advanced left wing position to fight for the ball, win it back and spring a break. If Milan are in a good position in a tie with half an hour left, would his energy not have been very useful?

Pioli doesn’t deserve criticising for much this season – in fact he has got 90% of things right – but this one is a head scratcher that hopefully doesn’t prove to be fatal.

Join in the discussion over on the Rossoneri Discord!


Tags AC Milan Jens Petter Hauge


  1. My dudes, relax, left wing rebic, leao, mandzo, where and when was this boy going to play, nowhere. Krunic is not good, but speaks italian, covers a lot of options on the field and hasn’t played in his position at all since he joined, so he can still have some value, albeit intrinsic, and meite is, to be honest, not good as well, but he has a physical presence that resembles kessie, but only a resemblance, nothing more, so he should’ve been left out, but wasn’t since the manager has to build his confidence as he just looks so unhappy and lifeless.
    Big hug and lots of love to all the milan fans out there and see you in the stadium once this bs blows over!

    1. Mandzu is no left wing. Hauge can also play nr 10. And i would name Saelemaekers and Rebic for the right spot, so Hauge and Leao on the left. Ibra and Mandzu as a striker.

      1. Pioli never gives Hauge the trust that he ‘s gifted to the loanees, even the dreadful Dialot. Never mention to give Hauge some chance to play at Nr. 10 postition.

        Krunic before Hauge? What is Pioli thinking?! He is reversed back to his old self: timid, over-thinking, blind trust on some unworthy players. Remember how he almost killed Calabria’s career the season before by giving Conti all these chances of the world no matter how sh!t his defense was. If not for his injury, Calabria would be long gone!

        Hope Hauge bite his teeth, work hard and don’t give up!

        This kid has great field vision and football intelligence that a lot of our players don’t have. For example, Calhanoglu and Brahim both seldom hold their heads up when with ball under their feet and that’s why Calha strikes so many posts and Brahim can not make the right decision at the right time to release the ball to the teammates, more like a mini version of Suso.

      2. wow well said sir

        Pioli at times lacks tactical knowledge guys his proven it now including krunic by saying he can cover on the left and mario were by krunic is third choice CAM and fifth choice in CDM and krunic is not good enough to make it to this squad but Pioli just showed us how much he loves Krunic his first born im realy dissapointed and questioning pioli if his capperble to maintain top four finish before the end of the season with such mentality im realy scared now

  2. The guy is good in the wing but need to improve more so as to play dayin and day out, hmmm is not easy to choose one by I will love the young man to be listed, krunic is good but as better people playing this position too, I think hauge would have been a good choice, sometimes leo is not in the game hauge and be a good replacement for him, and hauge is have a good form in the Europa champions League

  3. Is this how you “reward” a player who almost single-handed gave Milan the top spot in the EL group???

    Does Pioli have some grudge against Hauge? Pioli usually gives positive talking about the players, even the loanees such as Dialot even after his dreadful performance, but I noticed he had only NEGATIVE talking points after Hauge’s great performance in the last EL games. After that press talking, Hauge has suddenly lost his confidence, become confused, got no teammates support, for example, Theo would prefer send the ball to Brahim instead of Hauge even if Hauge was in a much better position.

    All these and now excluding Hauge from EL list, Pioli is killing Hauge, a young player with great potential. Shame on him!

    1. Agree… Theo never give a chance to this guy, and also hauge looked so confuse on the pitch because theo and other midfielders had a bad vision of the game, as we know the tactics is beginning to readable to many opponents

    2. You’ve hit the mail right on the head my man… And I can go on forever about Meite – an utter idiot – but I did enough of it in my original comment (just hadn’t mentioned that I was referring only for the last match against Inter in the Coppa semis, when he “played on his position”, yet destroyed crucial balls).

  4. What!!!?? Krunic over Hauge this is soo unbelievable there’s no tactics that would favor Krunic over Hauge in Europe

  5. Makes no sense. Why would he take both Meite and Krunic over Hauge. IMO it should have been Hauge for sure and then take 1 of Meite and Krunic… makes absolutely no sense here. Come on Pioli, this one was a dumb call, 100%

  6. Speriamo che questo grossolano erroe di Pioli non pesi sul milan ma prima di tutto su Hauge che è stato preso per crescere come punto del milan.
    Ci resta la speranza che questa scelta malsana non pesi su tutto l’ambiente e non dia ad Hauge lo spunto per trovare altri lidi visto l’attenzione di altri club

  7. Krunic has been a major disappointment.Completely useless in any role he has been in.If Meite is played in the #6 or #8 role,where would Krunic fit…Anyone who thinks as a #10 naturally should pick a different sport to follow.This triggers the answer that Hauge should have been selected. Pioli has got this one wrong.

  8. It’s not even Krunic dat should have been excluded, Castijello should have been dropped, he is the worst player I have ever seen in a Milan jersey,in ally 33 years of supporting Milan, he is the worst..

  9. Really bad decision, you sir kill a great talent and pick trash and some loanee before the next milan superstar

  10. That was worst desicion by pioli , showing the world that he’s big fan of krunic even castillejo. No master worst they are, pioli are in love with them. The way I watch the game some Milan players didn’t pass the ball to Hauge even hE had better position.
    ex. Theo or brahim . They will pass the ball to JPH when he was in bad position. Poor milan

  11. Jika alasannya adalah dalam beberapa pertandingan terakhir hauge mengecewakan, maka lihatlah Castilejo, Krunic, penampilan mereka tidak lebih baik dari Hauge..Semoga keputusan Pioli tepat, karena jika malah sebaliknya, fans akan semakin kecewa..

  12. First, it’s really good to see an article like this one,once most of us feel the same way about JP! Now, when it comes to Pioli, with this decision, and a few others, mainly the ones regarding Meite (I really can’t see how you’re putting him ahead of even Rade, given the terrible things we’d seen by him so far), purchasing him (which is the one that’s a least wrong) then putting him in Hakan and Diaz’s position, and I won’t even mention his awful performance as “Frank’s deputy”, when he was losing a ball after ball in the last 10 minutes, each one deadlier than the one previously, concluding with the giveaway free-kick that finished us!
    That’s a kind of player we’ve got in Meite, everything’s said about Rade, yet a supertalent like JP, someone who was putting smiles on our faces from da moment he came, is left out! And we keep on hearing the cub wanna trade him to Verona…

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