What a difference a year makes. It’s 352 days since Krzysztof Piatek completed a €35m transfer from Genoa to Milan, joining in tandem with Brazilian Lucas Paqueta aiming to guide the Rossoneri into the Champions League places. Almost a full year later, and with the euphoria surrounding his signing having long since dissipated, Piatek is on the verge of a swift exit, with reports of a move to Tottenham Hotspur nearing completion.
Where did it all go so wrong for Piatek? The simplistic answer is that he’s surplus to requirements with the return of Swedish king Zlatan Ibrahimovic last week. The Pole has now slipped down the pecking order at San Siro. yet his problems at Milan started long before Ibra was even considered a viable option.
The problems aren’t with the player per se but rather issues around him, namely a club in chaos. Piatek was bought on the back of a single, exceptional half-season with Genoa, when he rifled in an absurd 13 goals in 19 games. This 23-year-old, from nowhere, had catapulted himself to the top of the Capocannoniere charts by Christmas, ahead of seasoned pros like Cristiano Ronaldo, Ciro Immobile, Edin Dzeko and Mauro Icardi.
Milan decided they wanted a piece of the Pole and handed over a large sum of money, which hindsight tells us they probably weren’t in a position to do. Now, you would like to assume that the Diavolo would’ve done their due diligence on Piatek, scouted the player and identified his strengths and weaknesses.
Had they done so, they would’ve quickly realised that he isn’t the sort of player to dribble past one or two players and place the ball majestically into the top corner. Piatek is a traditional No 9 and therefore needs service.
Service, it turned out, was in short supply. Piatek started brightly, scoring six goals in his opening seven games, but then the well ran dry. Suso and Hakan Calhanoglu, both mainstays of the Rino Gattuso era, failed in delivering the service Piatek so badly needed.
Suso, in particular, has given off the impression of a player going through the motions at Milan for two years now. He’s drawn serious criticism from large sections of the club’s fan base for his lethargic performances and perpetually struggling to execute the same manoeuvre – cutting inside with his left foot and attempting a cross. The move has become so telegraphed now that the Spaniard resembles a lousy imitation of Arjen Robben.
Suso only provided three assists in the second half of 2018-19 and has fared even worse this season. Calhanoglu, meanwhile, has been given oceans of goodwill from Gattuso, Marco Giampaolo and now Stefano Pioli without ever vindicating the faith shown in him. A somewhat-decent first season in Italy has since given way to continual mediocrity, with the odd glimpse of the player Milan thought they were signing from Bayer Leverkusen.
The collective poor form of Suso and Calhanoglu is what has killed Piatek’s time at Milan. Starved of the service he thrives on, the 24-year-old looks like the proverbial fish out of water. Whilst he possesses average technique, he has tremendous off-the-ball movement, but what good is that without receiving it? Imagine mid-2000s Milan with Pippo Inzaghi in attack but with Kaka, Rui Costa and Andrea Pirlo suddenly turning off the taps. There wouldn’t be a sixth or seventh Champions League trophy residing in Casa Milan right now.
There is no guarantee that a 38-year-old Ibrahimovic will instantly turn things around for Pioli’s misfiring side. The underlying issues that hampered Piatek throughout his year in Rossonero are still there, a critical lack of creativity. They’ve only scored 16 goals in Serie A this season, the fourth-worst return in the League and only four goals more than rock-bottom SPAL.
The Piatek story is perhaps a tale of too much, too soon. A full season at Genoa perhaps would’ve served him, and Milan, best, to see if indeed he was the genuine article or just a half-season wonder. Yet the general dysfunction behind the scenes, culminating in a lack of synergy between CEO Ivan Gazidis and directors Paolo Maldini and Zvonimir Boban, has exacerbated the club’s on-the-field problems.
Despite that, it would be foolish to sell Piatek and perhaps a loan move would help the player to regain his mojo in front of goal. Ibra will only give the club a short-term fix and, once he moves on, or retires most feasibly, Milan will again be in the market for a centre-forward, should they sell Piatek now.
It would be a short-sighted decision but, then again, this would epitomise the current iteration of Milan.