In the midst of the never-ending Gigio-saga, Milan management impressively found the time to open up negotiations with Bayer Leverkusen over the services of Turkish international Hakan Calhanoglu. The 23-year-old has impressed in the Bundesliga for the last four seasons now, but what can the fans expect from him? Rossella Marrai-Ricco spoke to Turkish coach and analyst Muhsin Ertugral about the rising star.
Yesterday saw the return of the famous #MirabelliMonday hashtag – a term used when Rossoneri management confirm news on the happenings in the transfer market, and to no surprise, it was trending…
Calhanoglu is said to have already agreed a move to the club, and all that remains is to finalise talks with the German club. A reported figure between €20-30 million has been bandied about, and if he does pen in a deal with Milan; it would make him the fifth signing under the new Chinese owners.
Born in the German city of Mannheim, Calhanoglu has largely drawn comparisons to Germany’s World Cup winner Mesut Ozil for the way he commands the midfield through his passing ability. However, it is his skills on set-pieces, which has caught the attention of many suitors.
Since the 2013/14 campaign, the youngster has netted an impressive tally of free-kicks, 11 to be exact – the most scored by any player in the Europe’s Big-Five leagues. Ertugral, though, feels there is much for to his game than striking a dead ball.
“Hakan has become more a complete player in recent years. He has developed his defensive approach to the game better,” reveals Ertugral.
“His set-piece ability is a big specialty of his. His major strength for me is the deep passes behind the lines, where he can connect the striking department.
“Looking deeper into today’s type of game, and analysing it properly, it is a major weapon to have players they can execute. Italian teams are very organised, so to score from set pieces during a complete season will come to high margin. For any team today it’s a must to have such a player.”
One of Milan’s biggest flaws in recent years was their ability to find a midfielder, who can feed the strikers with consistently well-executed balls – an area where Calhanoglu can help bridge the gap, having created seven assists in just 15 Bundesliga games for Leverkusen.
Vincenzo Montella will certainly be pleased should Massimiliano Mirabelli and Marco Fassone pull off another excellent coup in the transfer market, adding to the list of new arrivals: Andre Silva, Ricardo Rodriguez, Mateo Musacchio and Franck Kessie. All these players were reportedly sort after by other clubs too.
Ertugral admits that he is happy to see more top-end talents joining Serie A clubs, and feels that Calhanoglu will only but gain crucial experience should he pull on the red and black jersey.
“Most of the players in recent years wanted to go to the Premiere League or to La Liga, but Italy has gained interest of top players once again. The quality is rising again, and I think he will gain great experience,” adds the former coach.
“Milan is a huge club and a big step for him. It’s important that his defensive approach, as mentioned, has developed to a better degree, which is very imperative to play in Italy.
“For sure, his age is on his side, and playing in very competitive leagues will help the Turkish National Team.”
Even three weeks after Gianluigi Donnrumma’s refusal to renew his contract with Milan, the 18-year-old continues to be a hot, and controversial topic, in the football fraternity. His decision has put him on the receiving end of many upset remarks, but the protest that got everyone talking, was when fake dollar bills were thrown at him during Italy’s opening game against Denmark in the U21 European Championships. Behind the remonstration was a group of Polish Rossoneri fans, who head up the group Milan Club Polonia. Rossella Marrai-Ricco spoke exclusively to MCP’s club president, Roman Sidorowicz.
Rossella Marrai-RIcco: Hello Roman, thank you for the chance to interview you. Tell me, what were your thoughts when you and Milan Club Polonia heard about the news of Donnarumma’s decision to not renew his contract?
Roman Sidorowicz: Hello Rossella. We were really disappointed and we felt big sorrow... Not because Donnarumma didn't renew his contract, but this player was a guy who kissed our shirt and promised big love just few months ago. He said on several occasions that he dreamed of playing for Milan when he was young, and right now, he refused a new millionaire contract.
RMR: Understandably, the Milan fans were hurt by this decision, and you and the club members reacted with a demonstration that went viral across the globe. Why did the club decide to throw the fake money at Donnarumma?
RS: We decided to throw the fake money because we have considered that his love to Milan, which he promised, was fake. You cannot promise love, and after few months, not renew a big contract. It's obvious that you will become a traitor, especially when you refuse a €5 million contract. Everyone knows that Mino Raiola is only looking for money, and that's why we threw the fake money at him.
RMR: The Club didn’t stop there, as another banner went up during the defeat to Czech Republic, which read: “If you have Milan in your heart, change your agent.” Will there be another banner in the final group game against Germany?
RS: We put another banner against Raiola during the game against Czech Republic, but I cannot tell you if we will make another banner. We will see how the situation will change, but till now I can say that our protest was profitable, because we put a pressure on both sides. After that, everyone started to write about this contract and both sides have since started to negotiate once again.
RMR: Indeed, these protests have had a massive impact. Why do you think it’s important for the fans’ opinions to be heard?
RS: Fans, with their protests, always put pressure on another side. We have put big pressure on Donnarumma and Raiola. I think Gigio, during this protest, wasn't feeling very good, and he proved to have a bit of regret because he refused this contract - at least I hope so! Raiola has created an image/perception of a guy, who thinks only about money, and he is not grateful to Milan for everything what Milan gave him. With this dollar rain, we have shown this to everybody in the whole world. After this protest, even normal people who don't care about football have started to be interested in this Donnarumma story.
RMR: A lot has happened over the course of the past few days, and it seems like Raiola has now been put under a lot of pressure, including his relationship with Donnarumma. What are your thoughts on this?
RS: I think that Raiola is the main guilty party of this story. He cares only about his pocket, and every time he wants to sell a player, it’s for the highest possible money to get big commission for himself. Paul Pogba's story can be one of examples; when he get €27 million of commission only. He looks only for money and not for what is good for the player. Also Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s story is a good example… I think that Ibra has never won a Champions League title just because he had Raiola as a manager. Such good players don't need an agent like Raiola. I think that Raiola influenced Donnarumma’s decisions too much… He refused a €5 million contract from Milan because he is sure that he can get much more from others clubs, and then he will also get some commission, which the new Milan don't want to pay him.
RMR: There are talks that Donnarumma could change his mind and renew. Do you think the fans will warmly welcome him back? Or does he have to dismiss Raiola first?
RS: The main thing is that he needs to change manager and cut all ties with Raiola. If he will do this, then all fans will forgive him. If he will stay with Raiola, and renew with Milan, I think that it will not change too much. Everybody knows that if he will stay with Raiola then he will sell him in the next year or two.
RMR: On a lighter note, there have been plenty of positives in Milan’s transfer market, despite the Gigio-saga. What have you made of the transfer window so far?
RS: So far, we have made really good transfers. We have bought the players for the positions, which were needed. Right now, I also think that we don't need to buy an expensive attacker. It will be better to spend this money for a good midfielder who will make a good passes to the attackers. If our current attackers like Bacca or Lapadula receive good passes, then now I think that they can also score a lot of goals.
RMR: Thank you again, Roman.
RS: You’re welcome.
Gianluca Lapadula was one of the most sought after players during last year’s summer transfer window, with the likes of Juventus, Milan and Napoli reportedly chasing after his services. However, his career path hasn’t been all about the Serie A giants; instead, he has gone through many obstacles during the course of his profession. Rossella Marrai-Ricco spoke exclusively to the striker about the interesting route his career has taken him.
Despite having grown up just around the corner from Torino’s Filadelfia Stadium, Lapadula was a fan of the black and white half of Turin, and it was nothing short of a dream come true when he joined Juventus’ youth system as a kid.
It was with the Bianconeri where he learned the tricks of the trade, and largely developed into the player he is today. However, at the age of 14, his time at the club was cut short. After failing to produce the required school marks – Juventus are strong believers in education first, then football – the Old Lady’s youth management opted to release the young Lapadula.
Rivoli, a team from a town on the outskirts of Turin, not too far from home and close enough to be with his family, signed the promising forward, and it was there that he got his first taste of real victory.
“For me, Juventus was very important because I had played in the youth section for eight years and I was happy there – it was a bit like home,” he reveals.
“When they didn’t keep me on that year, it was a proper knock for me, but when I went to Rivoli, it was also another stimulating avenue, where in two years, we won almost everything. We were one of the strongest teams in Piemonte.”
In 2007, Lapadula signed his first professional contract with Pro Vercelli, making just four appearances and failing to score any goals, but that wasn’t the biggest disappointment… the Piemonte outfit was in financial arrears and was later liquidated, forcing the then 20-year-old to move on to Ivrea.
Little did “Lapa” know that it would be his second of four successive teams he joined that would be declared bankrupt, with Atletico Roma and Ravenna both joining the list. It was a situation that saw many of his teammates and colleagues quit their pursuit of making it to the top flight, but one he believes was a catalyst in making him the man he is today.
“I saw many people who, for many reasons, decided not to go forward – also because of the club. Maybe they weren’t all great players, but regardless, there were a number of conditions to not pursue [football] further,” he adds.
“I did think about it [quitting], because at one point the situation became unsustainable. There were definitely signs that came to me, but I continued to have something inside of me that I didn’t understand or know. However, it was there… inside...
“That thing always gave me the motivation and hunger to play football, and to train – that made the difference. Those situations were only managed in the sense that I could not stop, I did not choose, but I had to continue to do what I was doing with lots of passion. We also had faith in those moments even when it was truly difficult to believe.
“Fortunately, my family was with me the whole way, and in that moment, I can say it was fundamental for me. Those moments are the ones that formed me.”
True to his hardworking Italo-Peruviano (Italian-Peruvian) nature, Lapadula stuck it out and pushed through the obstacles, and in 2011, he enjoyed his first real campaign with San Marino, notching up two dozen goals in 35 appearances.
“My first good year was with San Marino, where I scored 24 goals – we won the league, and I won the Golden Boot award,” he continues.
Spells with limited game time followed at Cesena and Frosinone, before his nomadic nature kicked in and he found himself moving to Slovenia to join ND Gorica for 12 months, and then Teramo for a full season. This all whilst being owned by Parma – a team who never truly looked after him.
“After that, I scored 14 goals in Slovenia [with ND Gorica] and 24 goals with Teramo. Even if Parma failed in the act of solidity, and I couldn’t have peace of mind, they were beautiful years. However, on the field, things went great, which I warmly recall together with my family.”
Lapadula’s hard work had paid off and his solid performances with Teramo earned him a move to Pescara, who were coached by Massimo Oddo. It was with the Delfini that “Lapagol” enjoyed his best ever campaign – scoring 30 goals to help Pescara earn immediate promotion back to Serie A.
“Oddo was at a very high level, in the sense that he let me train with a lot of tranquility and in his own methods. The team was very happy and enthusiastic, and you felt this on the field,” reflects the 27-year-old.
“I have always said that I enjoyed my stay in Abruzzo – as a region and the rapport with the Abruzzesi people, etc., they were truly beautiful. I spent two years in that region with Teramo and Pescara, where we won the league with both sides.
“Well, that was unforgettable…”
Having featured in all but two games for Pescara over the course of the 2015/16 season, it came as no surprise that Lapadula was considered the most prized Italian on the transfer market. Scudetto champions Juventus were reportedly eager to bring him back “home”, while Napoli were in potential need of a striker with the possibility of Gonzalo Higuain leaving the club.
Instead, it was Milan who secured Lapadula’s signature in the most quiet of manners, and when he heard the news of the Diavoli’s interest in him, there was only one answer he could give.
“We were considering our options until we heard about Milan. When I heard that Milan wanted me, it was an immediate yes! There was no need to reflect on it. One simply does not refuse a club like Milan,” adds the No. 9 who was scouted by former president Silvio Berlusconi, despite Vincenzo Montella having yet been appointed.
“I found out that it was the president who was the first to want me, and then the club, and also the coaches, who were in pole position [for the job], because there was no coach at the time. For me, it is a moment of great pride to be chosen by someone who has not only selected great players, but champions.”
Lapadula’s switch to Milan meant the Rossoneri were the 12th club in his 10 years as a professional footballer, and one that also saw him go from limited resources to the elite training grounds of Milanello.
“You realise that you never had these things before. But look,” he turns and points to the field and clubhouse. “Here you find everything! It is a paradise for our team. Nothing is missing at this club. It is beautiful to see.”
As he looks back at the pristine green fields and trees that encompass the interview spot, Lapadula comes across as calm and content after working his way to a starting berth under Vincenzo Montella.
It wasn’t until Week 33 – against Empoli – that he was afforded the chance to be present in the starting line-up consistently.
Up until the game against the Tuscan minnows, the striker had been afforded mainly limited cameo appearances off the bench, seeing him score five goals and bag three assists in that time. But regardless of how much game time he was given, Lapadula always handled himself as a professional, playing with motivation, hunger and grit.
“This is one of the fixtures of my work, but this isn’t work – it is fun to live these emotions,” he smiles. “There is a lot of passion in what we do. I don’t only live like this only on a Sunday, but during all the training sessions too – it is a beautiful stimulant. I am happy to have found more space in the team.”
In fact, his colourful emotions were well on display during the Derby della Madonnina against Inter, when he was granted 16 minutes to try to change the scoreline. And whilst it may have been Cristian Zapata who bagged the late equaliser, Lapadula released some of the most picturesque of reactions when the scoreline changed to 2-2.
Reflecting on the dramatic encounter, the former Teramo man pauses and describes the game as, “Bella! (Beautiful!),” before warmly adding: “It was beautiful because it was greatly satisfying to secure an equalising goal late in the game with great desire and force. I believe it will remain in Milan’s history...”
One game that will remain in the club’s history books is the 3-0 triumph over Bologna on the penultimate match day of the Serie A season. It was a game that ensured Milan’s return to European football after three years, and, rather fittingly, Lapagol got on the scoresheet that day too.
“I should have scored all the goals!” he says while laughing. “Firstly, because they ruled out my first goal, which was regular, secondly, because I missed an easy goal, but I was happy with how I was playing. My performance still wanted another goal. Above all, I knew how important and fundamental the game was to Milan – I am very happy with my contribution.
“I believe that this team is capable of doing very important things for Milan. For a club like this, we can certainly bring back the Milan of a few years ago.”
Whilst this season has allowed him to go from Serie B to European football, Lapadula continues to remain humble and remember the source of his inspiration, in particular his brother Davide and his sister Anna, who he often dedicates his strikes to.
“My whole family is very important. In the difficult times, they were always there with me, while in the more beautiful moments they were by my side. They allowed me to experience success first-hand.
“Today, I can tell you that I am very happy with my first year at Milan. We were able to win a cup [SuperCoppa Italiana] and we qualified for the Europa League after several years of failing to do so. With Milan, it was a great satisfaction. Personally, I am happy even if I can always improve.”
The dream doesn’t stop there for Lapadula, though... In fact, whilst many of his colleagues went on holiday, he reported for national team duty in a friendly against San Marino on 31 May, where he walked away with an impressive hat-trick.
From there, he will be looking to continue to impress Italy head coach Giampiero Ventura ahead of next year’s FIFA World Cup in Russia – a dream he is desperate to turn into a reality, even if it means having to compete against the likes of Andrea Belotti and Ciro Immobile for a call-up.
“When you speak of the national team, you speak about the best Italian players in the world. It is normal that there is this duality, but for me it is an objective to go to the World Cup, above all, a dream! I will give my all to go there…” he concludes.
This interview was exclusive to Football Italia
Versatile Juventus midfielder Kwadwo Asamoah says he and his teammates have to forget this past week’s Coppa Italia success, in order to turn their full attention towards winning the Scudetto against Crotone on Sunday afternoon.
Massimiliano Allegri’s Bianconeri side became the first team to claim the Coppa Italia trophy for a third successive year, when they defeated Simone Inzaghi’s Lazio 2-0 at Stadio Olimpico on Wednesday evening.
Goals from Dani Alves and Leonardo Bonucci meant that Juventus moved one step closer to a possible treble-winning campaign, while the victory in itself meant the defending champions took home their 12th piece of Coppa Italia silverware.
Asamoah, who featured in three of Juventus’ five Coppa Italia fixtures, admits that The Old Lady are on the right path to achieving their objectives for the season.
"It’s always a good feeling to win a trophy and everyone is so excited because it is not easy," he tells Calcio in Heels. "We started from the beginning and that was one of our aims for this season – to win trophies.
"We were able to achieve one now, so everyone is happy, and there are still two more [trophies] to go."
Juventus’ next port of call will be to ensure a victory over a revitalized Crotone, with three points needed to win their sixth successive Scudetto trophy. But with their last win having come four games ago, "Kojo" is aware of the importance of forgetting about the midweek success in order to fully focus on claiming another league title.
"We are so excited, but at the moment, we have left what we won two days ago behind because we still have to be champions in the league," added the Ghanaian.
"We are focused now, and we have an important game in the next two days to play [against Crotone], which is very important for us. After that, we have to claim ourselves as Scudetto champions and then we will prepare ourselves for the UEFA Champions League."