It’s been a difficult first season at AC Milan for Andre Silva, as the Portuguese forward has struggled to force his way to the front of the queue at the San Siro while trying to adapt to a new country, league and team.
High expectations arguably didn’t help either, as the 22-year-old arrived following an impressive stint at Porto and with agent Jorge Mendes predicting big things from him in the future.
“He can become one of the best strikers in the world, he has everything to be so,” Mendes confidently tol Sky Sport Italia after his client joined the Rossoneri last June. “He’ll certainly be the best player in Italy in the next few years.”
It hasn’t quite gone to plan for Silva in the early stages of his time with Milan. Given his age and lack of experience, though, it’s entirely understandable.
Coupled with the emergence of Patrick Cutrone, he has found himself on the sidelines more often that not under both former boss Vincenzo Montella and current coach Gennaro Gattuso.
For the most part, that was perhaps the right decision. However, there has been a growing sense of frustration throughout the campaign that Silva hasn’t had more chances to impress and that only contributed to his struggles.
With the pressure to produce building, it was always difficult for him to come off the bench and make an impact in the closing stages of games and that was undoubtedly adding to the frustration over his inability to immediately repay the faith from the club.
However, Silva is now starting to show signs of a breakthrough. After scoring a last-gasp winner for Milan against Genoa with an excellent headed finish, he was on hand to repeat the trick at the weekend to secure all three points against Chievo.
The Portuguese international hasn’t had a great deal of luck on his side this season either, but as the ball dropped into his path in front of goal on Sunday, it finally looked like it was turning in his favour as he wheeled away in celebration.
That’s now 10 goals in 34 appearances so far this season, and with Nikola Kalinic neither impressing on the pitch nor in training after being axed from the squad last weekend due to his poor attitude in preparation for the game, it looks as though Silva could now be given a run alongside Cutrone as the top two options for Gattuso between now and the end of the season.
The Milan youth product arguably still gets the nod given his impressive impact and goal return this season, although there are certainly still limitations in his game that he can work on with experience and maturity.
Silva still has a lot to learn himself, especially in a more demanding league like Serie A. Nevertheless, he does have more to his all-round game with an ability to drop deep and help create as well as his movement and presence in and around the box.
Speculation has been building over his future, but after his latest match-winning contribution, Silva was quick to quash reports of a possible exit just a year after arriving in Italy.
“I’ve spent a lot of time on the bench, but I am young, I have to work to try and score for the team,” he said. “My thought has always been to stay here and do my work at Milan.”
It will be crucial for him to use his newly found confidence to extend this run in the coming weeks and really kick on. There is an argument to suggest that Milan fans will only see the best of him next season when he has fully acclimatised, and they’ll undoubtedly be hoping that he gets the chance to show that.
In Silva and Cutrone, Milan have two strikers who can not only make a positive impact now, but the pair can develop together and remain options for Gattuso for the foreseeable future while improving and maturing. In contrast, it simply hasn’t worked with Kalinic this season and he may well face an exit this summer if the right offer arrives.
Adding an experienced head who can be more influential to complement Milan’s young guns will be the perfect strategy, but for now it will be hoped that Silva really has turned a corner as opposed to merely just enjoying a purple patch in form.
Gattuso deserves plenty of credit in this potential turnaround too, as while he hasn’t always shown a great deal of faith in Silva in terms of playing time, he has always supported him publicly.
As seen with the transformation in Hakan Calhanoglu under his stewardship too, the club icon seemingly has a way of improving players to get the best out of them, and Silva could be next.
Sumeet Paul covers AC Milan for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @SP_Calcio.