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Saturday February 1 2020
Milan gamble on Saelemaekers

Milan are taking a risk with the transfer of Alexis Saelemaekers, gambling on the Belgian’s obvious potential, writes Vincent Van Genechten.

It hasn’t been the season of Anderlecht following their youth revival behind club legend Vincent Kompany, who left Manchester City after 11 years to return to his home country. ‘Vince the Prince’ runs the show at his former club, trying to copy the success of the Citizens using their offensive minded football while giving huge minutes to home-grown youngsters.

One of them has been Alexis Saelemaekers. The winger made his debut for the 34-time Belgian champions in February 2018, at the tender age of 18. A day earlier, he was called by his jersey number – 56 – by then head coach Hein Vanhaezebrouck because no one knew his name. By the way: it’s pronounced like Salemakers. The two e’s after the a’s don’t really have a function. The middle e is important, so the first part is not like sale. You should pronounce the e.

But who is this 20-year-old, whose role model is Thomas Meunier from PSG? Well, in some way he’s a mystery. The Anderlecht-watcher of the Belgian newspaper I work for – Het Nieuwsblad – said earlier this season the club is freaking out about Saelemaekers. Because one week, he can win you a game with a brilliant performance while losing you one the next week with a stupid mistake. “One moment he is a choir boy, the other an arrogant know-it-all,” they wrote.

That pretty much sums up the sixth Belgian in Milan history and the first one since Eric Gerets (83-84). Saelemaekers was put on the transfer list last summer, but got his chance on gameday six vs Standard de Liege. The Belgian Clasico. And he played brilliantly, scoring the winning goal – his first on the big stage. When celebrating, he pushed away all his teammates and pointed at himself. There he was again, the arrogant one. If things go well, he tends to go into a kind of freestyle mode and forget his assignments. There are times his good moments last a whole game, but there’s a downside to it all.

In this regard, he’s a poor man’s Dennis Praet. The former Sampdoria and current Leicester City player also shined for Anderlecht and they are of similar build: around 180cm with quick feet. Both work hard every game. They run a lot for offensive minded players, while contributing through dribbles and slick passes. But Praet is far more consistent on both ends, while Saelemakers is a flashy player. I saw him live in the away game vs Standard de Liege and he did… nothing. Regularly running into his defender, complaining early, pointing at others.

The chance of playing for a big club like Milan and being able to assist a striker like Zlatan Ibrahimovic made Saelemaekers decide he’s ready for an Italian adventure. He’ll like the Italian lifestyle, for sure. He’ll like the Italian arrogance. He’ll like the Italian fighting spirit. Because after all, he’s a showman.

But he won’t like the tactical schemes, the assignments and defenders harassing him for 90 minutes. He’ll tell Stefano Pioli what’s on his mind even if he’s not asked that question. That’s just how he is.

The good thing: he’ll get the right guidance from a Zlatan, a Jack Bonaventura, an Alessio Romagnoli. And that might be all he needs to blossom. For €3.5m now and €3.5m in the summer, Milan are rolling the dice on the potential of a stubborn Belgian talent. A risk, yet one that could prove to be a good investment for the future. The Rossoneri just need to read the manual first.

Have your say...
Next summer is another Year Zero. In the middle of all this - who cares about some kid from Belgium?
on the 3rd February, 2020 at 11:22pm
person responsible for the overall, long term strategy making transfer decisions and then the manager could be hired and fired based on results. But this doesn't work in practice because the director has to justify his existence so sees the transfer window as an end in itself. The number one issue facing Milan is a lack of stability. We had a team last season. It just needed a targeted signing down the left to replace Çalhanoğlu because he lacked pace. This window has smashed everything.
on the 3rd February, 2020 at 11:21pm
new Bonera, Mexes or Zapata - a player that I will be calling to be sold for about 5 years but who every single transfer window will remain as the club sells everyone else. It's a total and utter messs. The only glimmer of hope is the news that Rangnick might come to Milan and that he might even take full control over transfers. That would be awesome. The concept of directors of football simply doesn't work. The logic was that a director of football would bring stability because there'd be one
on the 3rd February, 2020 at 11:14pm
new Bonera, Mexes or Zapata - a player that I will be calling to be sold for about 5 years but who every single transfer window will remain as the club sells everyone else. It's a total and utter messs. The only glimmer of hope is the news that Rangnick might come to Milan and that he might even take full control over transfers. That would be awesome. The concept of directors of football simply doesn't work. The logic was that a director of football would bring stability because there'd be one
on the 3rd February, 2020 at 11:14pm
the mess from January. We need a starting CB, a cover LB, cover DM, possibly a CM (unless someone can figure out how to use Paquetá), at least one winger and, if we are to play two upfront, about 3 strikers so we have sufficient cover. And in the middle of all of this we're still stick with the biggest problem in the squad: Bonaventura is too similar to Çalhanoğlu. If were to sell any player this window it should've been the latter. But inexplicably he seems to start every single game. He's the
on the 3rd February, 2020 at 11:10pm
rarely be overhauled ever but built slowly. But January is about that one targeted signing. Especially when you have a caretaker manager. I warned at the beginning of this transfer window that we should hold off making big decisions until we have a proper manager in charge. Looking at the squad now it's a total mess. Bearing in mind that before the summer I said Milan needed ONE player (and a decent manager) to be competitive - a LW. Looking at the squad now I think we need about 6 just to fix
on the 3rd February, 2020 at 11:07pm
the problem with their little campaigns against just about every player. It's up to the people actually running the club to make sensible decisions for the long term interests of the club. Upfront we have, once again, sold another striker who once again inexplicably failed to score goals to be replaced with a 38 year old who is way past his best. But the thing that irritates me the most is that January is not a transfer window when you're supposed to overhaul your team. I mean teams should
on the 3rd February, 2020 at 11:04pm
I usually hate transfer windows at the best of times but this one was particularly awful. Maldini, Boban, Gazidis and Pioli have absolutely ripped the soul out of this Milan squad. It's a total mess. We had a CB pairing lined up for the next 10 years - now Caldara's gone to be replaced by someone who, at 30, has failed to achieve anything in football. In midfield we've sold our leading assist provider for the last 4 years in Suso. I know all the fans hated him. But frankly the fans are part of
on the 3rd February, 2020 at 10:58pm
Varsavia has the best comment..
on the 3rd February, 2020 at 10:09am
@Sta Cey Melan
You are absolutely right. What a stupid and pointless move. I am finding it more and more difficult to support this club with the ridiculous decisions being made every 6 months.
Why are we pandering to a coach who only “impressed” when Ibra joined? Ie he has done nothing. And contemplated selling Paqueta to suit this coach who clearly will not be there for the long term. Paqueta is an investment for the future
on the 2nd February, 2020 at 9:05pm
We should've waited until the summer and found a safer signing, this feels like a last minute panic buy.
on the 2nd February, 2020 at 12:32pm
Looking at the lads characteristics he reminds me of a Belgian Yoann Gourcuff (yes before all the anti-milanistas start laughing) he did flop, for the money in the current market its worth the risk, I would rather that than one trick donkey Suso on his £4m a season wages, at least Alexis is an unknown entity with a good engine who will look to actually get past a man and has good delivery, give the lad a chance people, you never know, Eden hazard was once an unknown talent.
on the 2nd February, 2020 at 9:53am
It‘s only 7m. So if it works out it‘s a great coup and if not who cares.

In todays market 7m is nothing.
on the 2nd February, 2020 at 9:27am
Hmmm

Someone else uses @Viktor I see.

I think this is a utterly weird signing. I just don't see it
on the 2nd February, 2020 at 9:22am
This is rubbish.
on the 2nd February, 2020 at 6:38am
So based on the blog writer looks like this player attitude is similar to Adel Taarabt.
on the 2nd February, 2020 at 1:21am
An indication of how far we have fallen, an unknown Belgian kid is brought in while we cannot figure out how to get the best out of a Brazilian international.

Ps we already had a midfielder full of potential; Cristante.
Forza Milan I guess.
on the 2nd February, 2020 at 1:07am
Oh God no, not another player who always fails and complains, not another Mario Balotelli. Please.
on the 1st February, 2020 at 6:26pm
Yep thats what Milan need more 'potential' star who amount to nothing. Bored now.
on the 1st February, 2020 at 4:44pm
At least he's a cheap risk compared to Paqueta, Piatek and Leao.
on the 1st February, 2020 at 1:22pm
Give him No 9.
on the 1st February, 2020 at 9:10am

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