Since the turn of the calendar year, Milan has been one of Europe’s most surprising packages, rejuvenated and ready to be a force once again.
Chief amongst those who have lent a hand in this recent Rossoneri revival is Zlatan Ibrahimović.
Serving as both the catalyst and undisputed star Stefano Pioli’s anemic attack had been lacking, the Swedish international’s potent finishing and gaudy production continues to inspirethose around him and remains at the forefront of the side’s title push.
Yet, while all eyes remain fixated on the soon-to-be 40-years-old, his unerring confidence and ambitions of bringing Milan back to the top, there have been many beneficiaries of the Swede’s guidance and aura, namely Hakan Çalhanoğlu.
The Turkish international, who arrived from Bayer Leverkusen in 2017 with plenty of buzz surrounding his free-kick stroke and creativity in the final third, has certainly experienced his share of ups and downs.
Since pulling on the red and black shirt, the ex-Hamburg midfielder has often lacked consistency under several managers and the cutting edge required to unlock Milan’s attack in vital areas. As a result, calls were ringing all over for Çalhanoğlu’s exit this time last year as the passionate fanbase clamored for a new number 10.
Unlike most, 2020 has served the 26-year old extremely well as he’s managed to find balance oﬀ the field in his personal life and put his best foot forward on it.
Solidifying himself as one of the first names on the team sheet for Pioli, 2020 has seen Çalhanoğlu score 14 goals and assist a further 12 in 37 appearances across all competitions to have many reconsidering their stance on him.
His end-product and, more importantly, confidence appears sharper now than ever before. But, with his contract expiring in 2021, tough decisions must be made surrounding his future.
Çalhanoğlu, as well as perennial superstar goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, could walk for free next summer, so resolving their respective futures remains of paramount importance at this time.
According to multiple reports out of Italy, the will of the Turk is to remain, though at the moment, there seems to be some distance between to the two sides in defining the terms.
A contract renewal seems far from a formality especially with free transfer specialists Juventus and Manchester United reportedly monitoring the situation. But, with Milan sticking by their playmaker through his inconsistencies, is he being disrespectful by playing hard ball at his current heights?
At the ripe age of 26, Çalhanoğlu is approaching that peak stage of his career where many in his position would fetch the bag and seek pastures anew to lift trophies. He is also aﬀorded the right to test the waters and capitalize on the fruits of his labor in the form of a pay day.
If you are Paolo Maldini and Frederic Massara, you can call agent Gordon Stipic’s bluﬀ and hope the demands soften before reaching an agreement somewhere in the middle. However, time is of the essence. Milan run the risk of having a player walk for free in his prime, an outcome that would go against the very model Ivan Gazidis and management has strived to implement with their transfer policy; that is purchase young, sell high for future profits.
It would not be all doom and gloom for Milan if he did walk though. Maldini has taken calculated risks on the market that have reaped tremendous rewards, so finding a potential Çalhanoğlu replacement would not be an impossible task. However, in Çalhanoğlu, there is plenty of added value in an individual who has stuck it out, found form and understands what it takes to last in a pressurized environment. That does not always come easy with new signings of the younger mould.
Of the 11 players haul brought in under Massimiliano Mirabelli and Marco Fassone in 2017, only five remain under club control, and two are starters: Franck Kessie and Çalhanoğlu.
Social media conspiracy theories and false news aside, there is still a possibility of reaching a resolution that would keep the attacking midfielder at the San Siro for the foreseeable future.
Amidst all of these discussions, Çalhanoğlu remains focused on helping Milan achieve their goals. Blocking out the noise, his free-kick conversion to jumpstart their comeback 4-2 victory over Celtic last night to progress in the UEFA Europa League proves he has sharpened his game and really enjoying his football.
Milan have their number in mind as far as wages are concerned, and must also consider the renewals of Donnarumma and Alessio Romagnoli priority at this time. But, in football and in life, nothing is certain. Milan must be prepared for any outcome to ensure this project stays on track - with or without their number 10.