Dilemmas and possible solutions: Milan’s balancing act in the left-back role

By Rohit Rajeev -

AC Milan have had some of the best left-backs ever to play the game and they have one of the best in the world at the moment, yet the position is still shrouded by some uncertainty.

From Paolo Maldini and Marek Jankulovski to Luca Antonini and now ‘The Chosen One’ Theo Hernandez, the Rossoneri have had the position covered for the majority of the last three decades.

However, with club football moving on and the game as a whole changing, squad depth has become a very important issue for all clubs to deal with. With most managers under pressure to play high octane entertaining football, team management has become an important virtue.

This has meant that sporting directors and often owners have to throw money to get equally capable players as back-ups to the players who are starting, the make the drop-off negligible. Here, we come to Milan’s dilemma…

Situation A

Milan have a very delicate situation on their hands. Theo Hernandez has established himself as one of the best modern full-backs in the world, but one of the most crucial things about him has been his availability.

Theo only missed 6 games out the 38 Serie A games last season out of which only 3 were due to injuries (3 were suspensions) and 2 games were because he had Coronavirus. This itself speaks to his incredible fitness levels considering the injury issues Milan have been having elsewhere.

Now when he is fit, it is not surprising that Pioli would want to call upon his best player in that role considering how Theo adds an extra dimension to the attack.

What’s the dilemma? Well, it would mean that if Milan wanted to secure a quality deputy Theo Hernandez they would need a left-back that would probably cost €15-20m.

Another point of conflict is that if Maldini brought in a relatively young player to be a back-up to Theo, then Stefano Pioli would not be helping his development if Theo were to play all of these games, or 95% of them at least.

With Milan aiming to compete for trophies this would mean that dropping Theo for an unproven albeit young and hungry left-back, which would mean that they take a risk on his performances especially if he made a crucial mistake.

Furthermore, if the player does develop or is already good enough then he would not be content to sit around and be deputy but instead would move on, and then Milan are back to square one.

Here, we find ourselves looking at the role of Fode Ballo-Toure who has been called upon just a few times since his arrival from Monaco in summer 2021, but he quietly sits on the bench and is ready to accept his role.

Situation B

If Milan were to decide that they cannot go out and invest the amount needed on a profile that would be happy to accept a status as ‘understudy’ to Theo Hernandez for the foreseeable, then it would create a whole new set of risks.

Milan cannot stop at mediocrity and cannot accept being thrust into emergency given the planning time available and the resources available (which are comparatively high still compared to most Italian clubs) to construct a squad with two players for each role.

Therefore, they cannot take chances. If Theo were to come down with a serious injury then Milan – and especially Pioli – would have to scramble around looking for internal replacements especially when it is not during the transfer window period.

A less extreme example of this has already happened on the right side. Milan went into the season with Davide Calabria as the captain and starting right-back, with Alessandro Florenzi his back-up and everything feeling quite secure.

However, Florenzi suffered a serious injury early in the campaign and thankfully for Maldini and Massara they were able to act before the window shut to sign Sergino Dest on loan to be the new deputy.

Calabria then went down injured, so had Dest not been signed then Pierre Kalulu would have had to shift permanently to right-back again (he has actually played a few games there anyway) thus reducing the depth available at centre-back, where Simon Kjaer has missed time, Matteo Gabbia is not a regular yet and Malick Thiaw had just arrived.

Reflections and solutions

As mentioned above, this is quite a complex situation and one that can arguably be mirrored around the squad where there is not adequate quality depth.

Milan can use the prowess of chief scout Geoffrey Moncada to find an apt deputy for Theo Hernandez, but the better they are and the more guarantees they offer the more they cost, all while Milan have more burning needs elsewhere in terms of investing.

That brings us to the solutions, of which there seem to be four:

1. Spend ‘big’ and get a good enough player
2. Get a young, unproven young full-back
3. Keep Ballo-Toure for now and hope his levels increase
4. Roll with Theo and adapt a player if necessary

The last point might sound a strange suggestion, but there is an argument that shifting Florenzi or Calabria over to the left-back role has actually yielded better results in some games compared to starting Ballo-Toure, so much so that Pioli did it several times last season.

If Theo is missing a few games per season, a case could be made that a versatile player who can fill in multiple roles (just like Diogo Dalot did) could serve well.

What do you think Milan should do? Tell us in the comments.

Tags AC Milan theo hernandez

12 Comments

  1. For the last 3 years, Milan has used right back to be Theo’s back up on the left side.
    First, it was Dalot and then Calabria, Florenzi, and Kalulu.
    Ballo Toure has played as many games as Bakayoko over the last 2 seasons.
    The back up left back position has been as neglected as the RW position .

  2. I think they shouldn’t get a full-back who can only play to the left. Instead find a left footed centre back who can also play to the left if necessary. That way we can matbe fill two holes without getting two players since a centre back is needed anyway. At least that’s what I think. We shloud sell kalulu gor a high price and get a fast centre back with a good left foot who can be a back-up for both Kjaer and Theo. And eventually fill the roll of Kjaer when he retires.

  3. Someone like Carlos Augusto from Monza could be a good fit. Young, promising and not too expensive. Well at least not according to Transfermarkt. Galliani might think differently :p

  4. Without Theo. Pioli can play with 3 in dedence without LBRB. Or better is to find young Italian Left Back. Milan school the best.

  5. The greatest defender of all time, who happened to play a big part of his career at LB for 4 years, can’t identify either a young or a veteran proper left back to sign to back up Theo.
    I mean, he couldn’t even sign someone on loan if he didn’t have the money to pay the transfer fee.
    Milan has 5 players that can play at RB and just 1 at LB. Pioli using players out of position to cover when Theo isn’t available shows what he actually thinks of Ballo.
    Pioli has done miracles with the players at his disposal.

    1. “can’t identify either a young or a veteran proper left back to sign to back up Theo.
      I mean, he couldn’t even sign someone on loan if he didn’t have the money to pay the transfer fee.”

      Someone sure does despise/hate our club legend who has been awarded the best director by 2 or 3 different parties already. Yeah yeah yeah, I bet Mr (or is it Ms?) Poli here would do faaaaaaaaaaaaaaar better job. LOL!!!!!!!!!

      1. The hypocrisy by some people on here is mind boggling.
        The same character who craps on Leao every chance he gets, who BTW won MVP of the league, is calling another person hater because he points out obvious mistakes and shortcomings in the work of the sporting director, not the club legend, and uses the “he won best SD of the year by 2 different parties to defend his argument.
        Does Milan have a proper back up left back? That’s a big fat NO.
        Did Milan use RBs on the left side because the sporting director can’t sign a proper left back over the last 3,4 years? That’s a Yes.
        So is pointing out the truth considered hating now?
        The issue is most of you fanboys can’t separate Maldini, the best defender of all time and Milan’s biggest club legend from Maldini the Sporting director.
        Maldini the sporting director is doing a very poor job in contract negotiations, signing players and there is no reason to even mention selling players because the guy can’t sell water to a thirsty man in the desert.
        But next time you wanna criticize Leao, and think that you can do a better job than him, as you accuse me of thinking that I can do a better job than Maldini, remember he was voted MVP of the whole League.

        1. “is calling another person hater because he points out obvious mistakes and shortcomings in the work of the sporting director”

          Hypocrite knows hypocrisy, eh? So I cannot comment on Leao’s obvious mistakes and shortcomings but you can comment on Maldini’s? LOL.

        2. “But next time you wanna criticize Leao, and think that you can do a better job than him, as you accuse me of thinking that I can do a better job than Maldini, remember he was voted MVP of the whole League.”

          And Maldini was voted Best Director in whole Europe by 3 different parties! LOL.

          1. That went waaaaaaaaaaay over your head.
            It’s all good though.
            Just next time you have the urge to criticize Ballo Toure, our lack of quality depth in midfield, our RWs, our n10s, our strikers behind Giroud remember who signed those players or who didn’t address those obvious wholes in the line and console yourself with Maldini won best director by 3 different parties.

  6. Sign a veteran left back who will be OK with playing sporadically as a 2nd fiddle to Theo. Something like Galliani did when he was signing the Favali’s and Pancaro’s. Florenzi kind of player without the injury issues.
    Young players want to play regularly, not once a month, as Kerkez example has thought us.

  7. Ostavit Balo Turea !! konstantno reste i stalno se uigrava na treninzima !! Može igrat povremeno i ne buni se jer grije klupu !

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