In an interview with the Corriere della Sera, Filippo Galli – head of the youth sector at Milan - spoke about the future of Italian football. Among the hyperbole about the need to invest the future of calcio in the younger generation, he finished with a prediction: “This may be the year of Cristante at Milan.”
Galli’s confidence may be a surprise to some, but Bryan Cristante’s potential has been a source of excitement for many around the club for some time and 2014 may indeed be the year in which it blossoms.
The 19-year-old midfielder has risen through the youth ranks at Milanello and early indications from pre-season are that he could play a part in new Coach and former primavera boss Filippo Inzaghi’s midfield. In fact, given the injury status of captain Riccardo Montolivo and the lack of creative minds in the centre of the park for the Diavolo, Cristante’s role could go far beyond his, or anybody else’s, expectations.
The youngster and his Coach share a history, the latter having already worked with the midfielder during his tenure with the primavera, where Cristante shined. Acting as a central hub for Inzaghi, the Italo-Canadian was chosen as the best player at the 2013 Viareggio Tournament, as the club lost in the final to Anderlecht.
However, Cristante’s transformation from starlet to starter was not a particularly smooth one. After seeing minimal minutes behind Montolivo, Nigel de Jong, Sulley Muntari and others during both Massimiliano Allegri and Clarence Seedorf’s terms last season, Cristante entered the summer with rumours circulating about his future. A move to Sassuolo or Benfica looked likely before Milan decided against it. It is a decision that may prove key as the season progresses.
Composed on the ball with an eye for a pass, Cristante is a touch of skill in a midfield selection primarily known for solidity. In brief appearances in Serie A last season he was impressive – most notably a January game against Atalanta saw the youngster score with a pinpoint low drive. The strike grabbed the highlights but it was the poise of the teenager, not lost among a veteran side, that was perhaps most impressive. Milan will be hoping that maturity continues this upcoming season.
With Inzaghi now at the helm of the Lombardy club, the inference that the younger generation will carry the club forward is clearer than ever. The retired striker has mirrored that mandate with his action so far this pre-season, consistently relying on Cristante in the ‘regista’ role in front of the defence. Cristante has rewarded the faith placed in him, being a rare positive in an otherwise disappointing summer.
“I have to keep working,” Cristante told Milan Channel following the heavy loss to Manchester City. “We have to work to get ready for the first game on August 31.”
That day is now less than a month away and while the Milan squad’s focus to improve should be unilateral, Cristante may need to prepare for the start of the Serie A season more earnestly than he thought a couple of months ago.