In terms of new signings, this summer has definitely been Milan’s most sensational in a long time. New players are turning heads and a Europa League qualifying round match against Universitatea Craiova was enough to pull the crowds in at the San Siro, with Milanisti eager to take a look at Franck Kessié, Andrea Conti and Ricardo Rodríguez, among the others (Lucas Biglia and Leonardo Bonucci were not included in the squad for the match).
But for now, it is youth team forward Patrick Cutrone, not the host of star arrivals, who has been catching the eye. His dedication and ability to lead the attacking line at such a tender age has impressed many in Red and Black, and this precocious talent could make him one of the Rossoneri’s greatest discoveries this summer. But history hasn’t necessarily been kind to strikers who have risen through Milan’s primavera ranks and players have often struggled to establish themselves. Stephan El Shaarawy perhaps came closest, and actually produced one outstanding season at Milan,before being slowed down by injury problems that led the club to sell him to Monaco in 2015.
And there are plenty of other talents who have failed to make the grade at San Siro.
Take Andrea Paloschi, who scored his first goal in Serie A exactly 20 seconds after his debut, but ended up playing for SPAL at 27, or Hachim Mastour, the Italian-Moroccan starlet who was billed as the next Neymar, but is now remembered only as an internet sensation after being jettisoned by Dutch outfit PEC Zwolle. Current Atalanta striker, Andrea Petagna, can also be added to this list, and though he helped the Bergamaschi qualify for the Europa League last year, he too struggled to make the required impact in the red-and-black shirt.
In short, over the last 10 years, Milan’s primavera forwards have tended to fall short of the mark. However, Patrick Cutrone may just be the club’s most realistic hope yet, and thus far, he has demonstrated he has the requisite traits to surpass his predecessors and succeed where they have failed (though some more miserably than others).
Cutrone was born in Como on 3 January, 1998. After starting his career playing five-a-side football with Paradiense, he moved to Milan when he was eight, rising through every level of the club’s academy and scoring plenty of goals in the progress. This journey reached its finest moment to date last May, when Vincenzo Montella decided to give him his top-flight debut, sending him on in place of Gerard Deulofeu, just five minutes before the final whistle against Bologna.
Cutrone did not feature again for the remainder of the season, but with the advent of pre-season and the usual marketing-heavy world tour, the young bomber was handed a string of chances to impress. The Rossoneri chose the Far East, and it’s there that Cutrone started to turn heads. The venue was the Universiade Sports Centre in Shenzhen, Chinese southern megalopolis, where Milan faced Carlo Ancelotti’s Bayern München. Milan thrashed the Bavarians 4-0, with Cutrone the protagonist thanks to his well taken double.
Cutrone’s first goal was typical of a no. 9, powering a header past Christian Früchtl after having out-jumped Mats Hummels and David Alaba, proving once again the importance of physical attributes in modern football. His second goal, more than the first, was an example par excellence of what a striker has to do on a football field – a piece of play that will undoubtedly been shown to the next generation of academy forwards.
Just a few minutes before the interval, M’Baye Niang set off on a driving run down the left flank, overcoming a tackling opponent with a lucky rebound, then losing Javi Martínez with a lovely nutmeg. In the meantime, Cutrone was following the game on the other side of the field, timing his run to avoid ending up offside. The Frenchman cut the ball toward him for the Italian youngster to hold up play for a few seconds, raising his head in search of a teammate. By that time, Niang was on the edge of the 18-yard box and in good position to receive the ball again. As he did so, he slid a first time pass to Giacomo Bonaventura, who was arriving as a midfield runner into the box. The Italian winger produced a low cross in the penalty area that was easy for Cutrone to send into the net from no distance.
Cutrone celebrates against Bayern alongside two of Milan’s new signings, Kessie and Musacchio
Though the goal looked simple, it was a masterpiece in terms of tactics and build-up. It involved everything a coach looks for in a striker: the right movement, the attention and intelligence to stay onside, the dedication and presence of mind to drop into midfield and contribute to the team’s build-up and finally, the perfect timing and killer instinct to break through the opposition defence almost unnoticed. In this goal, Patrick Cutrone displayed the attributes of a striker well beyond his years. It gave reason to think that a career in red-and-black is by no means a pipe dream.
The good things shown in China have been further confirmed in the above-mentioned Europa League game, when he gave Milan the lead with a great Filippo Inzaghi-style finish in-front of goal.
But what exactly prevents Cutrone from becoming another Graziano Mannari, who scored a screamer in a friendly against Real Madrid in 1988 aged just 19, only to end up in the scrapheap the following year? Well, to begin with, it’s his physical structure. Cutrone is quite tall, though not so tall as to hinder his agility, as well as muscularly well developed for a boy his age. Mannari was far smaller and Cutrone’s physique also distinguishes him from another of Milan’s former wonderkids, El Shaarawy. Indeed, though technically one of the best of his generation, the pharaoh has always lacked a certain muscular robustness, one that he is still yet to develop at Roma. This was perhaps one of the factors behind El Shaarawy’s injury problems, which continue to stymie him to this day.
Alberto Paloschi on the other hand had a good physique, but he was a static centre-forward in comparison to Cutrone, whose movement is already very intelligent for a player of just 19-years. As for Petagna and Mastour, they are completely different players: the former is technically inferior, while the latter is simply inconsistent and has yet to prove that the flicks and tricks can be backed-up by substance and end-product.
At least for now, Patrick Cutrone seems like a more rounded player, boasting the right mix of physical strength, technique, timing and tactical awareness. Of course, this doesn’t mean his career at Milan is secure, as he still has a lot to learn and plenty to improve upon (like his shooting, for example). Nor could anybody expect a 19-year-old player to have already ended the journey of self-improvement.
That said, Milan seem to be willing to count on him, at least part-time. Marco Fassone and Massimiliano Mirabelli are in constant search for an experienced centre-forward in this transfer window, but with three competitions to play next season, there should certainly enough room for Cutrone to prove his worth. Who knows, were he Brazilian with an exotic name, perhaps his name would be leading the shortlist of young talents to drive this Milan forward into a new era. However, time will only tell if Cutrone manages to avoid the fate of his predecessors.
Words by Franco Ficetola: @Franco92C14/a>
Franco is a son of Rome who grew up admiring Totti’s assists and chasing a ball through the streets of the capital’s suburbs. Now he spends most of his time watching football matches, regardless of the league, the country or the level. He also writes for @JustFootball.