Of the 12 new faces that arrived at AC Milan last summer, Hakan Calhanoglu and Andre Silva were arguably two of the more intriguing and exciting additions for the Rossoneri. Given their classy style of play, flair and creative qualities, much was expected of the pair this season.
Much like the campaign as a whole though, things haven’t gone to plan for the duo as they’ve struggled to live up to those expectations and deliver what the Milan hierarchy were hoping for.
Both have had their moments. Silva has eight goals in eight games in the Europa League including qualifiers, while Calhanoglu has made an important impact off the bench in recent weeks before scoring at Fiorentina and forcing his way back into the starting lineup last time out against Crotone.
The problem though has been that they haven’t been consistent enough to establish themselves as the first names on the team sheet. When coupling those expectations with their price tags, it has been a major disappointment not to see them flourish in Milan so far.
Calhanoglu is still just 23 years of age while Silva is 22; they’re both young and adapting to a new league and lifestyle in Italy. In truth, we arguably should have seen their early struggles coming, but it’s what they do between now and the end of the season that could determine whether they’re in Milan beyond the summer.
Whether it’s question marks over the management of the club’s finances moving forward, the lack of Champions League revenue that seems inevitable next season or a lack of faith to stick rather than twist, there are reasons for why they could be on their way after just one season.
Speculation has suggested as such as early as this month, but following comments from sporting director Massimiliano Mirabelli last week, the current group have the full backing of the hierarchy for the time being.
It seems like it may be more difficult for Silva to prove his worth though, as whether it’s something we’re not seeing in training or otherwise, neither Vincenzo Montella nor Gennaro Gattuso have been convinced enough to start him regularly. While he may have made 23 appearances so far this season, it’s been a frustrating stop-start process. The Portuguese international’s last start in Serie A was on Nov. 26, with a series of cameo outings to follow as well as not even making it off the bench on occasion.
In turn, it’s been infuriating at times to not see him used more, as while the wily Nikola Kalinic will offer a tireless effort and plenty of industry, the club needs more than that as there’s an expectation to entertain at Milan. With confidence, faith and a little luck, Silva will surely help provide that.
In contrast, we may be seeing a breakthrough of sort for Calhanoglu already as he grows in confidence and improves his fitness. Nevertheless, he faces a challenge of his own in finding a level of consistency to emerge as a reliable figure that Milan can depend on week in and week out.
While Patrick Cutrone deserves plenty of praise and opportunities for what he has contributed so far this season, there is still an argument to be made that Gattuso should go with a particular quartet of attacking players. With Silva leading the line and placing Calhanoglu, Giacomo Bonaventura and Suso around him, it’s with confidence that I’ll express my belief that we’ll see Milan play good football.
But crucially, it can’t just be for one game against Cagliari this weekend and then revert back to what we’ve already seen this season. That won’t give these individuals a chance to build chemistry and become a real attacking force. Instead, we’ll see inconsistency and an anxiousness to go with safer options if things get tough.
Gattuso must go with it for a run of games. We’ve seen what the alternatives offer, and that’s a factor in why Milan are stuck in midtable mediocrity in 11th place after 20 games, as close to the relegation zone as they are to the top four.
We don’t know what the future holds for Milan this summer, regardless of what Mirabelli or others claim. Things can change quickly in football, but for the next five months at least, it would be ideal to see Calhanoglu and Silva in particular prove why they were signed and to give us a glimpse into our long-term future in the process with the duo as focal points.
Sumeet Paul covers AC Milan for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @SP_Calcio.