The Hauge Debate

This week, as news of Milan's UEFA squad lists were released, many Milan fans were incensed that Hauge had been excluded from our list. Much has been reported about why that decision has been made, and it has also been reported that Hauge has accepted that decision and chosen to stay at the club, despite offers from Bayer Leverkusen and Southhampton reported to have been made for him during the January transfer window. The decision was Pioli's, I trust that he made things right with Hauge as best as he could under the circumstances. But who leaves their top scorer out of a competition? That is perhaps the question that is central to the Hauge debate.

He literally destroyed our opponents with his goal

First, a little back story on the UEFA squad lists, as many people understandably may not know the technicalities involved. This information can be found in articles 42 and 43 from UEFA. Each club participating submits two lists: List A and List B. List A can be up to 25 players, but two of them must be goalkeepers, and eight of those players must be "locally trained." The eight locally trained players are split into two categories: club-trained players and association-trained players, of which at least four must be club-trained. 

A club-trained player is a player who was registered for, in this case, Milan, for at least three complete seasons between the ages of 15 and 21. An association-trained player is a player who was registered for another club in the same association (in this case, Serie A,) for the same amount of time. Because Milan only had six locally trained players in our squad at the beginning of the season, our List A squad was thus reduced to only 23 players. When Conti left in January, that left us with only five locally trained players in our squad, so for the Round of 32, Milan only has 22 players on List A. It is actually our wealth of foreign players right now that created this situation in the first place.

Milan have a wealth of young club-trained players, but not enough spots for 21 and older

List B is for club-trained players born after January 1, 1999, or players who have been available for an uninterrupted period of at least two years for Milan between the ages of 15 and 21. The number of players on List B is unlimited, and can change within 24 hours of a match, whereas the only changes to List A are allowed in the event of an injury to a goalkeeper. Ahead of the Round of 32, Milan were allowed to make up to three changes to List A for players who transferred in January, and Pioli chose to add all three of our new signings. But without enough locally trained players, someone had to be cut.

The media reported that Pioli narrowed down his list and considered three players to cut: Meite, Krunic, and Hauge. He reportedly decided that he had the most coverage in attack, and that he needed all of the midfielders, and made his decision based on tactics, not necessarily talent. Pioli is an amazing coach, but he is not perfect. We have seen time and time again that his relying on Krunic, especially in the double pivot, has cost us points. Starting Meite as a trequartista resulted in our worst game of the season against Atalanta, where Ibrahimovic reported feeling "isolated," which seemed obvious given Meite's inability to play well at that position.

A choice between attacking coverage and warm bodies in the midfield

Pioli made the choice, there is nothing we can do about it, and his logic is not the worst logic ever. However, I take issue with the addition of Mandzukic. Mandzukic is 34, and he has made a total of eight appearances in all over the last year. He, his agent, and even Pioli said that it will take some time for him to regain match fitness, even though he had worked very hard to keep physically fit while he was without a club. He is also still getting to know the players and the team and the tactics. My issue with playing him in Europe is that he is needed most for us to win the Scudetto, particularly as a vice-Ibra. At his age and fitness levels, he cannot afford to be playing every three days, and certainly cannot afford to be injured playing midweek.

So much for faith, trust, and pixie dust

He was chosen ahead of Hauge, who came to us with three goals and two assists (one each at our expense) for Bodø/Glimt in the Europa League this season. After arriving at Milan, he became our own highest scorer in the Europa League with three more goals and an assist. He is match fit, is young, and needs playing time, which he is not getting in Serie A because of the aforementioned depth that we have in attack. He is bold, fearless, and creative in attack, known for his amazing skills in taking on his man as well as his fantastic shots. His natural position is on the left-wing, but he can also play on the right or in the center of the attacking midfield. He absolutely would make my Europa League list, even if only as a lucky charm for the team, because his play in Europe has been nothing short of magical. Despite the competition getting tougher as we go deeper into it, the facts show that he has earned the right to be in the squad. Particularly considering that without him, we would not even be where we are in this competition.

A Mandzukic injury in Europa League would be costly, namely €1.8m for 6 months

People can and have attempted to argue that Mandzukic's experience automatically makes him a better option (without considering the injury risks,) or that Hauge will not succeed against more difficult teams. However, the fact is that despite playing in a World Cup Final, amongst other things, Mandzukic has actually done nothing for Milan so far. Despite his history as a clutch finisher and the idea that he was brought in to do that job, being older and not having played in a year makes his abilities not as certain. Nor has Hauge been tested against tougher teams, so that is impossible to argue until we see what he can actually do. Which now we won't, at least not this season. But for people who don't even know what it means to be match fit, I can see that arguing unknowns is a specialty, so why not attack and harass and bully people about things that no one knows? The debate is a fair conversation, but some people have other intentions.

Europa League magic

As for me, in all humility, I actually do have a really good track record of using facts to predict football. I predicted that Pioli would be what Milan needed when he first arrived. I knew enough to know that Rangnick would not be more successful than Maldini, so much so that someone who knew Rangnick personally contacted me thinking I somehow knew him, too. I've actually been able to predict a lot of things about players, owners, and more with this fact-based method. It's not rocket science, it's football. Using current facts and knowns to predict future outcomes is always going to be more successful than following social media trends, other people's ideas, or dipping into predictions based on unknowns or biased opinions. Anyone can predict based on facts, it just takes knowledge and an open mind.

Maybe the decision was payback for this?

I have to trust Pioli on this one. Despite the fact that he's been wrong before, especially when it comes to Meite and Krunic, he has more information than I will ever have on the subject, knowing the players personally and seeing them in training every day. But it doesn't mean that I agree with the decision. Those are two different things. My concern is for the health of Mandzukic, the mentality and development of Hauge, and the unity and team spirit of the squad, which Pioli has managed masterfully up to this point. And also the winning, I do like that, too. 

It's unfortunate that Milan's transfer strategies created a situation where anyone had to be dropped. Certainly, this wasn't planned, as they have had to look outside of the club and even Italy for affordable talented players to rebuild the squad. But it's also a very strange decision for any coach to drop their most successful player in a given competition. If Milan manage to win the Scudetto or do well in the Europa League with the choices Pioli has made, then that may justify his decision. So long as Mandzukic doesn't get injured and Hauge continues to develop well and it doesn't change the mentality in the squad, then great. Letting things play out on the pitch is the only way to truly put an end to the Hauge debate.

This post inspired by the music of A-ha's "Take on Me"

Our next match is 
Serie A Week 21
Milan vs. Crotone
Sunday, February 7 • 15:00 CET (9am EST)

The Hauge Debate The Hauge Debate Reviewed by Elaine on 12:00 AM Rating: 5
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