Choosing Thiaw

Last summer, Milan identified a new center back as a priority signing in their transfer window. When the sale of the club and a massive offer from a Premier League club removed their first choice signing from the market, they ended up signing another young, albeit lesser known German center back called Malick Thiaw near the end of the transfer window for a lot less money. Fans thought this was a failure, but not even six months later, we are reaping the benefits of Maldini and Massara choosing Thiaw.

Once again, our technical directors have made an excellent choice

Last year, Milan had reportedly been in negotiations with Dutch defender Sven Botman of Lille. In fact, it had been reported that Lille and Milan had agreed to terms as early as April. However, when it came time to actually get a deal done, Milan had just announced the sale of the club. This was news that Gazidis kept from Maldini, who had been actively pursuing transfer targets with the assumption of a healthy summer spending budget.

Instead, not only was the club up for sale and transfer funds unknown and unavailable, but Maldini and Massara's contracts were not being renewed. To make matters worse, Newcastle swooped in with Premier League money and offered €37 million plus bonuses for Botman. Despite the prior agreement with Milan, the player chose Newcastle before Milan's technical directors could even get their own contracts straightened out.

Thiaw works hard and takes no prisoners

A full two months went by, and the transfer window was about to close. Milan had not signed a new center back following the departure of Romagnoli. In a flurry of last minute signings just ahead of both the closing of the sale of the club as well as the transfer window, Milan announced that they had signed Malick Thiaw from FC Schalke 04. His contract was a five year contract, through 2027, and the transfer fees were reported to be a mere €5 million plus €2 million in bonuses. For fans, this deal seemed to come out of nowhere. However, in his press conference upon arriving at Milan, it was revealed that the club had actually been scouting him for some time and had been in talks with him in the January transfer window last year. 

A defender with the size and strength to take on Big Rom... and win

Thiaw was born in Germany to a Senagalese father and a mother from Finland, and has both German and Finnish citizenship, but has played for Germany's U21 side. At 21 years old, he is a year and a half younger than Botman, and stands only 1 centimeter shorter than the Dutchman at 194 cm (6'4".) His transfer fees were over €30 million less, his salary is only €1.3 million annually compared to Botman's €5 million per year salary. 

And as a reward for his humility and choosing Milan, Thiaw already has a Champions League appearance. Botman's Newcastle currently sit in fifth in the Premier League, and while he has had more playing time, he still has yet to see any Champions League action. Also, Thiaw has been studying defending at the highest technical level in Italy. And because of Thiaw's contributions, Milan are looking to have Champions League football again next year, currently sitting in fourth in Serie A. Many are making comparisons to Kalulu, a gem that Maldini paid €1.3 million for in 2020 and who is now worth up to €50 million. Should Thiaw follow suit, then choosing him over a much more expensive Botman is sheer transfer market genius.

Thiaw has fit in well with his teammates, too.

As a young player, Thiaw actually played as a midfielder, as he revealed when he arrived at Milan. Now, as a towering presence in Milan's backline, his strengths are winning aerial duels, his speed, and... his strength, according to the player himself. It is clear that he has already learned so much since his arrival. He has only made eight appearances for Milan, including four starts in Serie A and one in the Champions League. But the growth and confidence since his first starts against Cremonese and Fiorentina in November is clear. His placement and reading of the game are much improved, and his understanding with his teammates is excellent.

When Pioli changed systems to the 3-4-3, Thiaw became an immediate pillar of that 3-man backline. After hemorrhaging 19 goals in the first nine matches of 2023 without Thiaw, suddenly, with Thiaw on the pitch, we kept three clean sheets in a row. In fact, fans voted him as the MVP in the Champions League match vs. Tottenham as well as the MVP vs. Monza. He nearly scored against Tottenham, and made seven tackles, three interceptions, and won nine duels in that match, according to @Opta Paolo

His near miss in his Champions League debut may have been his only error

Thiaw gives Pioli a tall new weapon in an arsenal of widely varied but talented center backs. In a potential four-man backline, the young German may struggle to start ahead of the Kalulu-Tomori pairing, or even a fit and experienced Kjaer in some circumstances. But he has definitely leapfrogged Gabbia in the hierarchy, and with injuries and the new choice of tactics, Thiaw will likely see a lot more playing time.

Initially, and even quite recently, Maldini was widely criticized in the media for his transfer choices. Everyone wanted the big money signings and said that his signings had failed to make an impact. But they were a bit quick to judge, as Maldini's wisdom is actually paying dividends. His choice of defenders has made an impact, and while that other guy fights for a Champions League spot with Newcastle, Thiaw has already made a splash with his debut in the Champions League. Pioli was heavily criticized as well, but when he put Thiaw in the lineup, everything changed for him and for Milan. It seems like everyone is finally realizing the benefits of choosing Thiaw.

This post inspired by the music of ABBA's "Take a Chance On Me"

Our next match is 
Serie A Week 24
Milan vs. Atalanta
Sunday, February 26, 2023 • 20:45 CET (2:45pm EST)

Choosing Thiaw Choosing Thiaw Reviewed by Elaine on 5:00 AM Rating: 5
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