Not many knew who Alexis Saelemaekers was back in January 2020, when Milan decided to bring him in from Anderlecht. In fact, the Rossoneri management didn’t know much about him either, trusting their scouting.
As recalled by Manuel Del Vecchio in his piece for MilanNews, the Belgian arrived on the last day of the transfer window on a paid loan, worth around €7m in the end. And since he was rather unknown, the Rossoneri fans got very curious.
Interviewed by DAZN a while back, as cited by MilanNews, technical director Paolo Maldini was asked about Saelemaekers and how the club managed to find him. He admitted that they have the scouting department to thank for the signing.
“Saelemaekers was the result of our scouting, I didn’t know him before. We were looking for a right-back there at that moment, or one who could play there. We saw this guy playing right, left, as a full-back, as a number ten, with such intensity that after you give him the ball he’s there.”
Alexis, in other words, obtained the approval of Geoffrey Moncada, Maldini and Ricky Massara which means that he has something to offer. After a natural period of adaptation, the youngster has certainly started to show his qualities on the pitch.
In 2020, Milan constantly grew – especially in the post-lockdown period – and it was certainly to the advantage of the many youngsters in the squad. And of course, this is also the case of Saelemaekers, who now is a key player for Stefano Pioli.
Initially arriving as a right-back, Saelemaeker’s athletic qualities soon revealed that he could be used as a right-winger in the 4-2-3-1 formation. Pioli’s ideas work perfectly with the No.56’s generosity, hard work and tactical intelligence.
The Belgian immediately learned Italian to make the most of his new adventure, convincing the management to redeem him. Since then, he has continued his growth also from a technical point of view, and together with Calabria, he forms a right-hand side that works very well.
After a year in Italy, during which he has worked really hard, Saelemaekers has only improved his traits: intense running, pressing, clever passes, recoveries, fine moves (ask Brozovic) and even some goals to top it off.
Technically, there are still small problems to be solved and his decisions in the final third could sometimes be more precise and concrete, but we can be sure that he is ready for 2021, ready to roll up his sleeves once again and work to improve.