On nights like tonight AC Milan need their best players to step up, if they are to have any chance of pulling of a miracle and reaching the last 16 of the Champions League.
La Gazzetta dello Sport focus on Mike Maignan who they say ‘lives with his head held high’, ‘has a ready answer, an attentive gaze and a cavernous voice, the kind that often echoes’. Even though he speaks little, when he does talk everyone listens.
Let’s take Theo Hernandez, who was perhaps at fault for the Frosinone goal in the 3-1 win 11 days ago. The bone of contention was the goal conceded from a free-kick and after celebrating under the Curva, Maignan touched his compatriot’s shoulder and asked for explanations.
“How come you jumped in front of me?” he said. And Theo gave his version, explaining what he saw and attempting justify himself. In the end, supported by Samuel Chukwueze, Maignan replied to his friend in a serious tone, annoyed by having conceded a goal in a calm match.
Maignan is the poster child of the silent leader. Against Atalanta, despite conceding three goals, he was the best on the pitch as he thwarted Lookman’s certain hat-trick goal by reaching across the goal line. Muriel’s heel – unpredictable, magical, postcard-like – deceived him too, but other than that he was faultless.
Maignan is a playmaker between the posts and a number 10 with gloves in addition to being a natural leader. The last time he spoke in the press room he defined himself in this way, clearly avoiding the Ibra issue. “This team also has other leaders,” he said.
Milan took him away from French champions Lille in great secrecy, with a studied and thought-out deal. In the end, he proved to be one of the best signings of the Maldini-Massara management and an essential component of a team that would win the Scudetto and reach the semi-finals of the Champions League.
He is the goalkeeper with the most successful passes in Serie A with 400, followed by Provedel, Sommer, Terracciano and Turati. The Rossoneri’s build-up play starts from him. Magic Mike also boasts eight duels won – third behind Martinez and Berisha – and 75% of successful long balls made.
There is no one like him in Serie A and Pioli once spoke about him in an interesting way: “Training him is exhausting, he asks for a lot. But it’s also fantastic, because he’s motivated.” The downside is clean sheets, of which he has certainly a few less than last year, only four in 12 games. He is determined for that percentage to improve.
When he was a child he played up front and scored goals. His first coach, Romain Damiano, a fast-talking Italian-Frenchman, nicknamed him ‘the Gunslinger’ because he celebrated like Suarez. On the day of the trial with PSG he was asked play at least one half between the posts, and not 90 minutes as a striker.
Maignan reluctantly accepted, but still played for a while as a forward just to make the point. The rest is history.