From poisoned chalice to fine wine: Olivier Giroud’s enthralling legacy at Milan

By Christian Montegan -

When Zlatan Ibrahimović returned for his second spell at Milan in January 2020, the general consensus was that the then 38-year-old’s signing was nothing more than a marketing scheme and a sugar hit to cover the cracks over a cloud of uncertainty and little direction.

Moulded into a fairly young side with minimal experience at the top level, the Swede was an outlier in that regard, as the strategy always revolved around building a competitive team for the near future.

Yet the message from the hierarchy became increasingly confusing in the summer of 2021 as it was announced that centre-forward, Oliver Giroud, was chosen to lead the line after positive talks with Stefano Pioli over the phone. Aged 34 at the time, large scepticism soon followed.

There was every reason to believe that the Frenchman was doomed to fail. Despite walking into a side that had qualified for the Champions League for the first time in eight years, Milan was still searching for an identity, lost Gianluigi Donnarumma and Hakan Çalhanoğlu to free transfers, and the dreaded ‘number nine curse’ continually haunted them since the departure of Filippo Inzaghi.

The one silver lining would be that Serie A has a history of veteran strikers outperforming. Look at examples of Luca Toni, Antonio Di Natale, Fabio Quagliarella, Francesco Totti, and Ibrahimović himself –  who benefited from a slower-paced league embedded with a precise tactical focus.

Giroud fitted the bill perfectly in that sense, but his leadership and exposure to the biggest stages in world football were arguably the most important.

Having won the World Cup in 2018 and just off the back of Champions League success with Chelsea barely a month before moving to Milanello, Giroud carried a winning mentality – an asset that would prove vitally fundamental to a young squad that was unfamiliar with the bright lights of Europe’s premier competition, as well as boasting a competitive bite capable of influencing his Milan teammates.

A disappointing last-place finish in ‘the group of death’ containing Liverpool, Atletico Madrid, and Porto was a somewhat sour note in Giroud’s first season, but if you had told him or any Milan fan that they would be in contention to win their first Scudetto in 11 years, they would have accepted the offer in a heartbeat.

And so they did. Milan recorded an unlikely but equally historic 19th league crown to pip city rivals Inter on the final day of the season – helped largely through Giroud delivering in the clutch moments when called upon.

It wasn’t just the 11 goals he contributed domestically during that campaign; it was the goals he scored on the big occasions. The brace against the Nerazzurri in the derby to claw back from the dead in the latter stages will be the fondest memory that supporters will carry of Giroud. Add the winning goal against Napoli down South and two early goals against Sassuolo on the final matchday to secure the title – they were the exact instances of why he was brought in.

The following season witnessed the complete opposite whereby it was the Champions League, a storied competition for Milan, compelling fans to dream of a magical run to the semi-finals. It was away in Naples once again where Giroud demonstrated his true fighting character, bouncing back from a missed penalty to double their lead on aggregate thanks to once again being at the right place at the right time in the box.

Soul-searching and bitter disappointment for the lacklustre way this current season has panned out is not the way Giroud would have wished to end his stay at Milan. However, it was against Genoa in the earlier rounds that epitomised his captain-like traits – putting on Mike Maignan’s goalkeeper gloves and green shirt without hesitation to make a match-winning save in the dying stages.

That’s exactly how he will be remembered – someone who always wore his heart on his sleeve, bleeding red and black, and running his socks off defensively in spite of his senior age in football terms.

In today’s modern game, players who display a certain passion and desire purely for the badge they represent are on the cusp of extinction. Personalities of that kind are typically rare to come by, which is why an intangible gaping hole will be heavily felt.

Giroud is the type of player who can go missing for large stretches of games without the adequate service he desperately craves to thrive, only it was Pioli’s understanding of how to deploy his strengths through hold-up play, link-up work, and phenomenal aerial ability that squeezed every ounce of potential out of a talented individual.

Who says that pace is critically essential? He may not be the flashiest player the sport has ever produced, yet those attributes are partly why France’s all-time leading goalscorer is incredibly underrated and heavily unappreciated in large parts over his decorated career.

48 goals and 20 assists spanning three seasons at Milan deserve all the plaudits and respect for a player deemed ‘finished’ after departing the Premier League in his mid-30s.

As Giroud’s move to LAFC in America’s Major League Soccer (MLS) was officially announced yesterday, undoubtedly the time is right for the club to move on in search of a more dynamic and younger striker who isn’t restricted to the limitations of an ageing 37-year-old.

Make no mistake though, his boots will be more challenging to fill than first anticipated given what he provides both on and off the pitch with his aura and presence.

In a plea directed at the Curva Sud ahead of Milan’s final fixture against Salernitana at the San Siro next week, nothing would put a smile on Giroud’s face more than if the active support remained vocal throughout the 90 minutes.

“If I can say something about the last match, not because I’m only thinking about myself…I want to leave with the fans singing,” he said in his official farewell announcement.

If there’s one thing that Giroud deserves, it’s to celebrate his legacy in the best possible fashion.

Merci Oli. Thank you for the memories.

Tags AC Milan Olivier Giroud

9 Comments

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  1. Agree. He really will be sorely missed. He’s a consumate professional, always commited and dedicated to the cause, and a very good striker too.

    Forza, Olivier!

  2. To be honest. I wasn’t thrilled when he joined. I thought he was overrated. Boy, was I wrong…!!! He’s actually one of the most underrated strikers of our time. An example to everyone. Never gives up and always doing his best. One cannot be asked to do more.

    Giroud. A Milan legend.

      1. WC winner and 2nd place. At Milan UCL Semifinalist, 1 Scudetto with literally the youngest team to win Serie A.

        The guy even worked as a GK with positive results for us.

        The guy made the impossible goals, played every three weeks with no problem, finest header in the game.

        The guy is the definition of 9, he is the kind of guy that can score with any part of the body at any angle. He is a natural.

        How TF would you not consider him as a legend?

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