There was a time, when David Beckham, Ronaldinho and Andrea Pirlo assembled on the pitch in red and black stripes, to kick a ball placed in front of them. At the time, no other team in world football could boast of fielding the three best set-piece specialists in the game. A deafening lull proceeded, with every member of the club apart from Adriano Galliani attempting to take a crack at free-kicks. Good times have returned since, as Marco Fassone & Massimo Mirabelli have secured the services of the 23-year old Turkish midfielder, Hakan Calhanoglu.
Milan’s new number 10 is the most effective, if not the best, set-piece specialist in Europe, having scored the most number of goals from free kicks since his Bundesliga debut in 2013. He announced himself to the world on 22 February 2014, with a mind-boggling swinger of a goal from 41-yards out, against a hapless Borussia Dortmund side, while playing for Hamburger SV.
But, harping on about his free-kick taking skills would further establish the rhetoric. He is more than just a set-piece specialist.
Calhanoglu has created the most number of chances in the Bundesliga over the last three seasons. The German top-tier houses some of the finest creative players in the modern game, namely Xabi Alonso, Marco Reus & Arjen Robben. To rub shoulders with the like is no mean feat.
Calhanoglu was hitting peak form in the Bundesliga for Bayer Leverkusen last season, contributing by scoring or assisting a goal every 110.63 minutes. This statistic is significantly better than his previous averages of 251.66 minutes in 2015-16 and 168.06 minutes in 2014-15. The ban imposed by FIFA cut his campaign short by half, which may have contributed to Leverkusen finishing 12th in the league. Leverkusen finished 3rd in the previous season and 4th the season before that, with Calhanoglu averaging 75 minutes per game, while starting 94% of the matches.
This establishes that the Mannheim-born playmaker was important to the German side. With his best years ahead of him, the talented Turkish star is a steal at €25 million. However, he does have certain weaknesses, which might get heavily exposed in Serie A.
Erratic in nature, Calhanoglu can drift out of games. if he finds himself to be isolated. He isn’t the paciest of attackers and can be bullied off the ball by the more physical defenders. He lacks the guile of David Silva or Luka Modric to work within the limits of a frail frame. Choking him could cause Milan to lose ideas mid-way through matches, which increases the emphasis on creativity in the wings. However, with Giacomo Bonaventura and Suso confirmed as starters on the wings, creativity will be hard to come by, if Calhanoglu disappears in-between games.
A superb technician equipped to effectively execute a long-pass, Calhanoglu may seem better suited to play deeper in midfield. But, Milan’s accelerated efforts to land Lucas Biglia from Lazio imply that Calhanoglu may adopt a more advanced role on the pitch. The risk is daunting, as he is yet to prove himself to be as effective between the lines.
The excitement is palpable and rightly so. That said, one has to bear in mind that Calhanoglu is far from being the finished product. The player unquestionably possesses potential, but his ceiling is yet to be identified. Fans of Milan can rejoice, for now, bearing in mind that their expectations have to be tempered and patience has to be offered.