Roughly six months ago, Milan and their passionate supporters flooded Piazza del Duomo in anticipation of the arrivals of Mattia Caldara and striker Gonzalo Higuain.
At a time of desperate need for a prolific hitman to spearhead the Rossoneri attack towards a Champions League berth, the 31-year-old Argentine was observed as the solution, the missing piece to the puzzle. The “best Milan striker since Zlatan Ibrahimovic” and a No 9 who “guarantees 15-plus goals” as many confidently declared, it appeared Gennaro Gattuso had been gifted the champion the red and black demanded in order to effectively compete for a European return.
In a matter of weeks, it has become increasingly evident Higuain’s heart was never truly committed to Milan. Instead, it was always a reunion tour with Maurizio Sarri at Chelsea to solve their own striker crisis that the Serie A record-holder for goals desired – and his wish is set to be granted.
With Pipita set for a Stamford Bridge loan move until the end of the season, and the January transfer window closing quickly, Milan sporting director Leonaro quickly identified his replacement in one of the biggest surprise packages of the 2018-19 season, Genoa’s Krzysztof Piatek.
Currently employed with a familiar business partner of the seven-time European champions in Enrico Preziosi’s Rossoblu, the 23-year-old’s new life in Italy could not have been drawn up any better, as he has 19 goals in 21 matches across all competitions – 13 of which are domestically deposited and see him in the running for the Capocannoniere title behind Cristiano Ronaldo, Duvan Zapata and Fabio Quagliarella.
Yet, as the Pole nears a reported €35m plus bonuses San Siro switch, every Milanista wonders is Piatek right, and ready, for the heavy Milan shirt?
Piatek, who scored an impressive 21 goals in 36 appearances for Cracovia in his final season in the Polish Ekstraklasa, eventually earned an under-the-radar €4m move to Marassi last summer, where he has exploded ever since.
Through 20 league matches this season, Piatek’s 13 goals equate to 52% of Genoa’s total output of 25, and he hasn’t exactly been awarded the luxury of a stable environment or a plethora of talent in support. Even with young Ivorian strike-partner Christian Kouamé playing a key role in his eruption, Piątek’s been forced to adapt to ‘calcio’ in less than ideal circumstances when you take into account the lack of supply and the constant turnover on the bench.
Davide Ballardini, Ivan Juric and now Cesare Prandelli have taken the post at Genoa this season, yet Piatek has managed to avoid the prolonged scoring droughts many newcomers succumb to in their first season in Italy at a smaller club. But that isn’t coincidental, as the Dzierżoniów-born bomber boasts a bevy of qualities that contributed to his white-hot start in Liguria.
Strength, hunger, positional sense all compounded with a clinical eye and touch within distance of goal, Piatek is equipped with most of the qualities you’d want in a No 9 - especially posing as a threat in the air (three headed goals in 2018-19) from set pieces.
Although a determined forward willing to engage in those physical encounters that often limit space and opportunity for strikers in Italy, the link-up aspect of his game is a bit rough around the edges. On the contrary, drifting into the midfield to retrieve possession, by virtue of both a reliable defence and overall supporting cast, should elicit more confidence from Piatek to contribute in ways that limit the opposition from silencing him on a given matchday.
Beyond technicalities, it doesn’t take much to establish the significant weight difference between the Genoa shirt and famous red and black of the Milan. Lump in the recent track record for strikers, along with a major fee for a key position, and you have a fanbase holding their breath.
Low supply, high demand, the market for productive forwards with a reputable body of work is dry, and this is especially true in January. Some will say Piatek’s profile isn’t compatible with golden boy Patrick Cutrone, but the fact remains if Milan wish to qualify for top four, a minimum of two strikers is required.
Without question, the jury is still out on Piatek and whether boarding his six-month hype train at a €35m fee is smart business by Milan, given the delicate nature of this position. But for sporting director Leonardo and the club to back up the truck for his services, they must truly buy into the Pole’s make-up and believe his half-season is more than a mirage. It’s either that, or just desperation.
A high, but calculated risk, Milan fans hope Piatek delivers in ways that deem him worthy of being dubbed ‘the next Robert Lewandowski.’ But, as is the case with every major investment, time will tell.