‘The next….’ is a phenomenon in football we just can’t get away from. As soon as a young player shows any sort of promise, fans and journalists alike are quick to hail him as a modern-day great – comparing attributes and characteristics with a former legend.
Mattia De Sciglio was one such player burdened by comparisons. As soon as the full-back broke into the Milan first-team aged just 19, the shadow of Paolo Maldini hung over him like a bad smell.
“De Sciglio is a player that can use both feet, just like Paolo Maldini. In my opinion, he plays better on the left,” Vice-President Adriano Galliani told reporters earlier this month. “If he manages to bulk up a bit and get some muscles, then he will be like Paolo Maldini.”
For someone who has only been a regular for the Rossoneri this season, mentioning him in the same breath as arguably the best player in the club’s history is putting enormous pressure on a 20-year-old. And is quite frankly irresponsible.
As we saw in Italy’s friendly with Brazil last week, De Sciglio still has a lot to learn about the art of defending. The Selecao’s opening goal came directly from the youngster’s lack of concentration – with Fred easily drifting towards the back post and slotting home a neat volley.
The player himself, though, has been keeping his feet firmly on the ground when it comes to following in the footsteps of a club legend. “As soon as I started playing my inspiration was Maldini, but every player has his own style,” the 20-year-old stated. “Assistant Coach Mauro Tassotti is helping me a lot to improve in my role and I really hope to mirror the career that Maldini had.”
Of course, there’s good reason why people seem to be getting excited about the boy just out of his teens – assurance on the ball, sound defence know-how and the very modern ability of being able to bomb up and down the touchline, are all qualities De Sciglio has in abundance.
Last term, when he made his debut for the club in the Champions League tie with Viktoria Plzen, he was the sole bright young thing in a team of superstars. This year, however, the full-back has come to the fore as one of the leading lights of a New Age Milan based around youth and vitality.
On his own, that could damage any player. Luckily though, with Stephan El Shaarawy and Mario Balotelli also taking some of the limelight at San Siro, it could mean that the No 2 flourishes in the role.
“I like watching De Sciglio play – how he makes himself useful to his teammates and how he runs up and down the flank," Maldini told Milan Channel in March.
“De Sciglio definitely has the Milan style and the appearance of a Milan player. He has the advantage of being a versatile player. He can play on both the left and the right side. Physically he can still improve a lot, but even when I was 20, I was not fully mature and was not a complete athlete. I believe he will do the same.”
It’s the ultimate endorsement from Europe’s ultimate defender. But it doesn’t mean that Mattia De Sciglio is ‘The New Paolo Maldini’. Not just yet anyway.