Just when it seemed that Mario Mandzukic could well move to Manchester United in January, Il Giornale came with a surprising report. The Milan-based paper claimed that AC Milan have already agreed terms with Mandzukic over a potential move.
United, who have been looking for striker signings after having sold Romelu Lukaku, would be disappointed. Milan, on the other hand, would be delighted by the news. With Marco Giampaolo sacked and Stefano Pioli in charge, this news would come as encouragement for the Rossoneri.
It probably comes at the right time too, considering how Milan are facing Lazio, Roma, Juventus and Napoli in their next six games.
But it is interesting to see whether Mandzukic would suit in at the San Siro or not. Currently frozen out at Juve, Mandzukic is not part of the Old Lady’s Serie A and Champions League squads. He is yet to make a single appearance for the club too.
He was close to a move to United before the Red Devils failed in a swap deal involving him, Paulo Dybala and Lukaku. A transfer to Qatar also failed in September, despite everything.
It is important to remember that Mandzukic is a big game player. He scored against Lazio, Napoli, Milan, Roma and Atalanta last season. He played as the striker, despite having been used on the left a lot of times by Massimiliano Allegri in the past. Playing upfront, he scored nine times last season, assisting seven times (via Transfermarkt).
There were two reasons as to why Allegri liked Mandzukic on the left. First, he primarily played there in his early days. Secondly, he really liked his workrate. He was often used as a left-sided target-man and he won 2.4 tackles per game in 2017-18 campaign (via Whoscored). He scored only five times and assisted thrice, but it was more than just about goals.
The World Cup finalist was never the best technically, never playing more than 29.4 passes per game in any season (via Whoscored). But his resilience and graft saw him make 1.2 clearances in the 2017-18 campaign. For a manager like Allegri- who plays a pragmatic system, Mandzukic’s no-nonsense abilities thrived.
His leadership and fire has been hailed by many. It was one reason why United wanted him as continue to suffer from a lack of leaders after the exit of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. A famous picture of him shows the Croatian bleeding from the head and carrying on in a Champions League game against Real Madrid for Atletico.
Coming to Milan though, they have a lack of leaders in that dressing room. It seemed like a broken team under Giampaolo. He had lost trust in them and they never believed in his system. He had a rift with Lucas Paqueta– clearly pointing towards his inability to get players on his side.
It is a very young side currently. Giampaolo fielded a team earlier this season which had an average age of 23.6. They are still learning at the art and the new signings are getting to grips with the club. Rafael Leao has looked very promising and Ismael Bennacer impressed on his debut.
But Mandzukic brings a big presence to that dressing room- something they desperately need. He will be one of the most experienced players in that side, along with Pepe Reina. Mandzukic has won four Serie A titles, two Bundesliga titles and a Champions League title. The 33-year-old has won more trophies than all the players combined.
He is a winner. He is the sort of character who lifts the dressing room when things might not be going right.
But as things stand, Milan have Leao and Krzysztof Piatek in the side. They belong to a younger breed of strikers and they will benefit immensely from the presence of someone like Mandzukic. Even if Mandzukic does not play too much, he will do a lot for the club.
But would Milan risk a huge wage for a player who could take the place of two younger strikers? That is the main issue. They’ve suffered a record loss of 146 million euros and that won’t help. Would they shell out that much money on a player who would demand first-team football? It seems tough to believe.