Typically, there is very little of note to take from pre-season friendlies. Squads are still in the process of being put together, players are slowly getting back to something resembling match fitness and new Coaches are trying out strategies and formations with what usually is a combination of anonymous players and academy prospects. The games are often redundant as spectacles, offering but a fraction of the pace and intensity of a competitive fixture.
The game between Milan and Monza, even with new Coach Pippo Inzaghi parading the touchline, was no different. That is, apart from one moment.
With 15 minutes remaining, 16-year-old Hachim Mastour picked up the ball near the touchline, around 35 yards out. The young Moroccan swiftly turned and dribbled with ease past several Monza defenders, who seemed to collapse like skittles hit by a bowling ball. As the starlet made his way into the box he laid the ball off to a colleague, fellow youth product Alessandro Mastalli. The striker finished neatly but Mastour was the star of the move – one immediately immortalised as the clip went viral around social media.
It’s not the first time Mastour has been the internet flavour of the month – leaked training videos showing the then 15-year-old embarrassing fellow Milan primavera players did the rounds as well as a clip of the winger juggling an orange.
The videos seem to add to the mystery of the youngster, a player whose talent seems to have matured much quicker than he has. In the final game of Milan’s season Mastour was a substitute alongside veteran players, some of whom were twice his age – and then some.
The face of the ‘class of 1998’, a group of Diavolo players including both Mastour and the aforementioned Mastalli, has many around the club excited for the future. No longer able to blow clubs away with lucrative offers as in years gone by, the focus of the Rossoneri is to build from within. In Mastour, they could have their foundation.
Alongside the youngster, Milan’s line-up against Monza featured central midfielder Bryan Cristante in front of the defence as well as the returning Stephan El Shaarawy in attack. Combined with Mattia De Sciglio and Mario Balotelli, Milan have a core of young players with which to build for the future that they – rather crucially – didn’t have to overspend to bring in. It is a mentality shared around the club, including their new Coach.
“Inzaghi, having trained the primavera, takes young players into account,” Cristante told media following the game against Monza.
Given the former striker’s primavera background at Milan it is no surprise that young players will be valued, an area of Inzaghi’s resume that could perhaps make Inzaghi-Milan a better fit than Seedorf-Milan. Whilst with players like Mastour, El Shaarawy and De Sciglio improving all the time, it could be argued it’d be difficult to ignore them.
Mastour’s magic may not reappear in a Milan shirt for some time and given the age of the player combined with the difficulty of the opposition, it may be a while before we see the youngster perform like that in Serie A.
However, the forward has already given fans reason to believe that if the present doesn’t look as promising as hoped, the future may yet be bright.