Hakan Çalhanoglu: Revitalized and Motivated

Hakan Çalhanoglu
Hakan Calhanoglu of Milan during the Serie A match between SPAL and AC Milan at Paolo Mazza Stadium, Ferrara, Italy on 10 February 2018. (Photo by Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Hakan Çalhanoglu arrived at Milan with admiration and high expectations after being brought in for €25 million from Bayer Leverkusen. The Turkish international had scored 17 goals in 79 appearances for Leverkusen and made a name for himself through his set-piece abilities. He also received Milan’s prestigious number 10 kit, previously worn by the likes of Rui Costa and Clarence Seedorf.

Çalhanoglu had not played a match since February when he joined Milan in early July. This wasn’t due to injury, though, as the midfielder had broken the terms of his contract with Trabzonspor from 2011. Evidently, he paid the price several years later.

Hakan Çalhanoglu: New Coach, New Attitude

Early Struggles

Hakan Çalhanoglu hit a learning curve at first. Fans, however, thought he’d adjust quickly since his absence wasn’t due to injury. It was evident early that his fitness levels weren’t up to par. Çalhanoglu didn’t start often in the early season under former Milan manager Vincenzo Montella, and when he did he rarely lasted a full 90 minutes.

As the season dragged on, Çalhanoglu’s fitness levels matched that of his teammates. He was still struggling, however. Montella experimented with him as a central midfielder, and this became an issue. Çalhanoglu’s skill set is better suited for attacking football. Çalhanoglu was visibly frustrated and lost motivation early on.

Montella was relieved of his duties in late November due to a number of lacklustre results. Milan, fresh off a summer spending spree, struggled to find an identity.

Revitalization under Gattuso

Gennaro Gattuso, coach of the Milan Primavera side, became the new senior side manager. Although Gattuso was a former star, he had little experience managing a large and prestigious club. He was, however, always known for his passion and ability to motivate.

Motivate he did. Gattuso has completely revitalized Milan and has them looking like a legitimate contender. Every player has benefitted from Gattuso’s promotion, but most notably has been Çalhanoglu. Gattuso has deployed Çalhanoglu as a left-winger, and that has worked wonders for his confidence. Çalhanoglu is involved in all attacks – releasing vicious shots at goals and whipping in accurate crosses. He’s also constantly tracking back to help defensively. Gattuso has instilled a new confidence in Çalhanoglu’s game.

Gattuso has noticed this as well.

“The whole team has improved, in my opinion. But honestly, I didn’t expect Hakan to step up the way he has. He is only 24 years old, I like him a lot and he has impressed me. I didn’t expect him to be such a complete player,” Gattuso said.

Milan’s most recent match, a 1-0 victory over Sampdoria, was arguably Çalhanoglu’s most complete performance for the team. On the offensive side, he completed 89 percent of his passes, created four chances, had eight total shots (three on target), and hit one shot off the post. More impressively, on the defensive side, he had four successful tackles and two interceptions. Hakan Çalhanoglu was all over the pitch and was determined to guide Milan to victory.

What’s next?

The Rossoneri face a tough schedule with Roma, Lazio and Inter as upcoming fixtures. Çalhanoglu will have to maintain his current form and dictate Milan going forward for the team to score on what are very stingy defences. He is more motivated than ever due to his relationship with Gattuso, and he must continue to deliver.

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