Fan article by Richard Gyasi (@gyasirichard3).
“Now enough jokes, put the ball where you know, otherwise we’ll send you back there [Fiorentina]”. That, according to Massimiliano Mirabelli, was meant to be a joke when he presented Kalinić as Milan’s last signing of their euphoric mercato in the summer. A jest, which he later had to apologize for to the Fiorentina ownership.
There is no denying the fact that Kalinić’s arrival at Milan had an air of dreariness about it and that colloquial joke from Mirabelli was an articulation of the lack of confidence in the Croatian striker. It’s also important to remark that out of the 11 players that Milan purchased this season, Kalinić was Montella’s call. The others had been identified by the club’s sporting director Mirabelli and CEO Marco Fassone in early spring this year. But it’s vital to investigate the circumstances that led to the striker joining Milan.
Nikola Kalinić was never part of the plan of the new board. Before his introduction as a member of the renewed Milan, names such as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Andrea Belotti, Diego Costa and Alvaro Morata had circled in the media during the hazy days of the transfer window. Milan’s ideal striker, according Mirabelli, was Aubameyang. The Gabonese international’s familiarity with Milan as a product of the Youth Sector placed him in good stead, but his achievement as the top goal scorer with 31 goals in the Bundesliga last season was the unique selling point. Milan’s 2nd choice was Torino’s Andrea Belotti, another talent who had a stellar performance with 26 goals in Serie A last term.
Both Dortmund and Torino had no intentions of selling their most prized properties, and the demand of €70m and €100m for Aubameyang and Belotti respectively was a major sticking point. It remains obvious that Milan wanted a proven, consistent goal scorer and Kalinić did not figure in that rank.
Pursuing these top strikers also meant that the promising Gianluca Lapadula had to take a step down in the pecking order, hence the club’s decision to ship him out on loan to Genoa. Curiously, the now-fired Montella sanctioned the exit of Carlos Bacca, the club’s highest goal scorer in the last two seasons, to play on loan at Villareal. It was obvious from last season that Bacca’s problems were as a result of the burnout he suffered from playing 36 matches for Milan in the previous campaign. But the Colombian still managed to score 13 goals for Montella.
The signing of André Silva was deemed not enough for Milan’s push for a Champions League spot in the league while testing the waters in the Europa League and so Montella signaled for Kalinić, a player who had scored 27 league goals in two seasons for Fiorentina.
But the move for the Croatian international was unpopular among lots of Rossoneri fans, and one could assign a few reasons behind this dislike. First of all, Kalinić is not an A-list striker. Secondly, he does not strike fear into defenders. Third, he doesn’t work hard around the opponents’ box. But in his defense, some pundits opined that Kalinić is better suited for Montella’s preferred system, which is the 3-5-2 tactical formation.
Montella’s rotation policy to juggle between the Europa League and Serie A preordained that one of Kalinić and André Silva will be given a priority in the league over the European competition. Silva’s impressive displays during the preliminary stage of the Europa League made him the crowd’s favorite between the two, but Montella preferred Kalinić. Serie A experience and 15 league goals last season was enough grounds to start the Croatian ahead of the Portuguese. But after making 11 league appearances for the Rossoneri, Kalinić has scored three goals for the club and fans are not convinced that he deserves to be in the colors of Milan.
In fact, one wouldn’t be wrong to surmise that the treatment of Kalinić on Sunday was only a matter of time. After Patrick Cutrone and Silva scored a brace each against Austria Wien in the Europa League, some fans propagated the idea to bench Kalinić against Torino. But once again Montella decided otherwise, except this time he paired him with Silva. A move, some say, was precipitated by Borini’s absence.
Kalinić has not only underwhelmed in terms of goal scoring, but his general contribution has been poor. Currently, it’s not hard fans to think that Bacca would have been more prolific with this vastly improved side. It’s difficult not to accept the fact that Lapadula would have performed better, and there is no denying the truth that Cutrone shows more hunger, desire and aggression in the final 3rd.
As it stands, there is a truism in Mirabelli’s comment when Kalinić was being presented. And the only way to make that a joke is for the Croatian international to put on his scoring boots.