Six years after celebrating their 18th Scudetto at the sacred ground of Piazza del Duomo, AC Milan and their beloved supporters worldwide are just beginning to emerge from one of the roughest spells in club history. Polarising stars had been mortgaged to alleviate financial burdens, a young, mohawked ‘tridente’ once destined for greatness was dismantled, countless players undeservingly donned the famous rossonero, and a certain ‘Presidente’ finally relinquished the rights to his beloved club after 31 successful years in charge. Defined as the ‘Banter Era’, there had been little to cheer about on the red and black side of Milano. But throughout this difficult period, the prestigious Rossoneri youth academy, which has produced icons like Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi and Billy Costacurta, has continued moulding the next generation of stars to birth another golden era of renewed hope and glory at the club.
First, it was fullback Davide Calabria who would graduate from the Primavera into the first-team. Months later, towering teenage shot-stopper Gianluigi Donnarumma followed his academy mate, storming the Italian top flight at sixteen with uncharacteristic poise and a flair for the dramatics as the last line of defence. And last, but certainly not least, Manuel Locatelli – the string-pulling ‘regista’ Milan has missed since the days of Andrea Pirlo roaming the ‘centrocampo’ for the San Siro tenant. Three of four departments employed products with red and black blood running through their veins, and only an attacking piece was missing to complete the Primavera puzzle. Without further adieu, allow us to introduce you to the missing ingredient, Patrick Cutrone.
Hailing from the beautiful city of Como, Cutrone first turned heads ten years ago as a youngster in Pare, where scouts from Como, Monza and Milan flocked to see him marvel for his local five-a-side club Paradiense. After several advances were made to bring him aboard, in the end, Milan’s former head of recruiting Mauro Bianchessi won the sweepstakes, swooping in to snag the seven-year-old right out from underneath rivals Inter. Since arriving at Vismara, the Italian bomber has gradually ascended through the ranks, scoring at will and impressing at every turn. Along with finishing third in the 2015/16 Campionato Primavera Girone B capocannoniere race with a substantial 14 goal haul, Cutrone’s poacher-like profile has since translated into perhaps an even stronger body of work spanning several international ranks; 31 goals in 58 matches from the U-15’s up until most recently with Luigi Di Biagio’s Azzurrini.
On an unrelenting journey towards succeeding where others such as Alessandro Matri, Alberto Paloschi and Andrea Petagna failed before him, Cutrone is proving to be destined for greatness at his boyhood club. Modern football and its many advances in tactical theory have gradually begun steering further away from positional normalcy, especially the striker. Long gone are the days of simply posting up in the penalty area, pouncing on the occasional loose ball, and punching out your ticket after 90 minutes. Central forwards must be able to provide more than quantifiable statistics and avoid becoming a liability in the build-up at all costs. For the Rossoneri, worry not. Cutrone carries an array of talents in an overall deep repertoire; early in Milan’s pre-season summer tour, we quickly learned of this.
“Cutro’s” tenacious attacking runs into pockets and peeling twists off the back-shoulder allow him to inflict danger in the end with a cool finishing touch – whether it is on his left, right or via header. Most observers and critics tend to align their opinion of a young player with ‘black and white’ statistics like goals-assist splits. Obviously it’s in those two respective outputs that you learn of a player’s end product, but by simply watching Cutrone play, it’s overtly obvious he brings much more immeasurable value to the table, specifically in the build-up.
You’ll see Cutrone drop into space, aid in the attacking transition, and rush forward as an option; all qualities which translate seamlessly well in the final third when his wide-men eye up a cross. Look no further than his first Serie A start on Matchday 1 this year (a 3-0 rout of Crotone) as evidence of his complete package. An opportunist in front of goal, Cutrone earned a penalty, escaped his marker on a Hakan Çalhanoğlu free kick to assist Suso, and attacked the front post to head home for his maiden goal in the top flight. But what’s been overlooked about Cutrone are his internal attributes; an incredibly high work rate, the lack of complacency, a sacrificial attitude to empty the tank, and maturity levels well beyond his years.
Not only does it require talent to reach the summit of European football, you must stay hungry and humble in your hustle to remain there. Poacher-turned-manager Pippo Inzaghi, who gave Cutrone his Primavera debut in April 2014, spoke to
Corriere dello Sport about his former pupil’s maturity.
“Cutrone has grit, humility and tenacity. He knows what sacrifice and the will to break through are. It is not easy for anyone to wear the Rossonero jersey, to start and score in front of 65,000 fans. Cutrone can go very far, he can reach the National Team
by continuing to play like he knows to, by being generous and selfless, and to living with the sudden fame. It will certainly flatter him but it will not, nor will it ever, change him. This is his strength. Cutrone has goals and Milan on his mind.”
Over this difficult period at the club, optimism amongst supporters of the red and black contingent remained high in their youth academy. Vismara’s long-standing reputation as a hotbed for top talent had only recently come into question, as the academy failed to produce the stars capable of breaking into the first-team fold. Now, churning out one quality prospect after another, the prestigious academy has prevailed, making up for lost time and a lost generation.
Manager Vincenzo Montella – the man credited with giving Cutrone his debut last May – shot down domestic demands for his loan services this summer, despite spending north of €60m on striking talent, calling upon the baby bomber to help Milan push towards a Champions League return. With four goals and two assists early in the campaign, Cutrone has set his sights on earning his red and black stripes. Milan’s new revival has begun, and Patrick Cutrone is at the heart of it.
By: Matthew Santangelo/@Matt_Santangelo