Hakan Calhanoglu has been one of the most important Milan players in recent time, as has become clear when he hasn’t been on the pitch. However, it hasn’t always been that easy for the Rossoneri’s No.10.
As MilanNews highlight, his importance became evident when he first had to withdraw with an injury and later due to COVID. Soauliho Meite, Brahim Diaz and Rafael Leao were all unable to fill his shoes, despite a few overall positive performances.
Fortunately for the Rossoneri, after his longest unavailability since he arrived in Italy, Calhanoglu will return to the squad for Sunday’s match against Crotone. That is the team he made his Milan debut against, which makes the clash a bit special.
In July 2017, the midfielder joined Milan from Bayer Leverkusen for a figure of around €22m. The Turk was one of the many signings of the crazy summer by Fassone and Mirabelli, though one of the few (along with Franck Kessie and Antonio Donnarumma) that still plays for the club.
With his free-kick skills, expectations started to build up and he made his debut in the first round of the season, against Crotone. We had to wait until September 14 for his first goal, though, as Milan faced Austria Vienna in the Europa League.
The first few months in Italy weren’t easy for Calhanoglu. The talent wasn’t really disputed by anyone, but he failed to turn his quality into service for the team. Then, as many expected, the turning point came.
After many tactical errors and upheavals, in November, the Rossoneri management decided to sack Vincenzo Montella. Gennaro ‘Rino’ Gattuso arrived in the latter’s place, and he made a simple but ever so important move: giving the team an identity.
The Calabrian manager decided to focus on the 4-3-3 formation and immediately gave confidence to Calhanoglu, deploying him as a left-winger in the trident with Suso as well as one between Nikola Kalinic, Andre Silva and Patrick Cutrone.
With Gattuso, the Turkish midfielder started to perform better and also found the back of the net more. The long-distance strike against Arsenal was a real pearl and in the final game of the season, he scored his first free-kick goal for the club. He ended his first season with 45 appearances, 8 goals and 17 assists.
These were positive numbers, for sure, but the real Calhanoglu was yet to arrive. Despite finding himself isolated from many games, Gattuso considered him an undisputed starter. In the 2018/19 season, Milan got so close to Champions League qualification but it wasn’t enough, resulting in Gattuso’s sacking.
Marco Giampaolo was brought in to replace the former midfielder, and it started well for Calhanoglu as he scored in the first game of the season against Brescia. However, except a few flashes, he struggled to perform on a consistent basis, much like the rest of the team.
Indeed, the Rossoneri were in a crisis and it was quite frankly a total disaster. Another managerial change, therefore, with Stefano Pioli brought in as the new man. It didn’t come straight away but in January, when the manager switched to 4-2-3-1, Calhanoglu and the team started to find the right path.
As an attacking midfielder, in the trequartista role, he seemed to find his place. And then, not trivial, he immediately got the coach’s confidence. In the post-lockdown period, he exploded definitively in all aspects, closing the season with 11 goals and 9 assists.
And at the start of this season, the music didn’t change. On the contrary, Calhanoglu acquired greater confidence. When Ibra is out injured, the Turk carries the team on his shoulders, both from a technical and character point of view.
The penalty obtained and transformed in stoppage time against Rio Ave is a symbol of the importance of the No.10, leading his side to a crucial win. In the first half of the season, he scored 6 goals, before the stop for a sprained ankle and then COVID.
His absence was felt, that’s for sure, and without him in the attacking trio Milan have struggled a bit. However, quoting the article, “The wait is over”. Milan are ready to welcome their champion back.