One of the more frustrating issues with Milan in recent years is the number of youth products who have come through the ranks but failed to kick on at senior level.
We’ve seen Patrick Cutrone, Manuel Locatelli and Bryan Cristante to name but a few make it to the senior squad and show promise, but all have followed the same path through the exit door.
Some may argue that they weren’t good enough. Others will insist that they were too limited and cashing in made sense. Both are perhaps fair points, but there comes a point where Milan need to start developing homegrown talents, being patient and working on turning them into top-level players.
The club’s history is littered with countless examples of youth products who cemented their places as legends, and when you consider names like Franco Baresi, Alessandro Costacurta and Paolo Maldini, (and yes there are many, many more) they has been a concentration of talents in one particular area.
It’s hoped that Gianluigi Donnarumma will stick around long enough to be regarded in the same category, but now Milan have one particular talent who is approaching a crucial period in his development and ultimately his career.
Show faith, must be backed up on pitch
As per La Gazzetta dello Sport, Milan’s intention is to secure a contract renewal to keep captain Alessio Romagnoli at the club for the long-term future, and now Matteo Gabbia is being tipped to form the new centre-half partnership alongside him.
The report notes how problematic that position has been in recent years. Rodrigo Ely, Gustavo Gomez, Alex, Philippe Mexes, Gabriel Paletta and Cristian Zapata have all come and gone, while question marks remain over the likes of Mateo Musacchio and Leo Duarte.
Now, Milan have a young player in Gabbia who has come through at youth level, represented Italy from the U16s to U21s and served his time out on loan to gain experience.
The 20-year-old Lombardy native made a big impression on me in pre-season. He featured regularly and such was the level of his performances, they arguably swayed the decision to keep him at the club as opposed to loaning him out again this season.
He’s had to bide his time since though. His first appearance of the campaign came against SPAL in the Coppa Italia on January 15, before he featured in three consecutive Serie A games prior to the suspension of fixtures due to the coronavirus crisis.
In those four outings, Milan conceded three goals. Still maturing and developing as a centre-half, Gabbia hasn’t been perfect but he’s shown physicality, awareness, positioning, aerial strength and composure on the ball to be able to play out from the back.
The youngster ticks a lot of the right boxes for a modern-day centre-half, although if there is a concern at this early stage it’s that like Romagnoli, he lacks recovery pace, albeit he’s no slouch in that department either.
Now is the time for Milan and Stefano Pioli to stick with him and find out just how good he is.
If they show faith and he backs it up with his displays on the pitch, Milan may well finally find themselves a crucial solution next to Romagnoli while saving themselves a significant transfer fee on signing another defender.
Cast him aside and revert back to Musacchio or Simon Kjaer, and there’s a risk another one of our own is going to grow restless on the sidelines, fail to show his true worth and get moved on prematurely before showing his class later in his career.
Cutrone, Locatelli and Cristante haven’t exactly set the world alight since they left. However, some would surely prefer them over some of the current and more recent options we’ve had in the squad. They’ve allowed the club to pocket some handy transfer fees, but it would be refreshing to see one of the top products from our youth system get a fair crack and show he can cut it for the long run.
Gabbia just might be the one to do it.