The Return of Mike Maignan

Six months ago today, while on international duty with France, Mike Maignan went off at halftime in their match vs. Austria with a calf problem. After tests were done, it was revealed that he had a lesion on his calf muscle. Estimates were that it would take about a month to heal. However, when that month was up, and he was ready to return, he suffered a new injury in training. This not only kept him away from Milan, but also from France's World Cup campaign, which took them all the way to the Final. Maignan had to watch as his teammates claimed runners up on the world stage, while he was still struggling with an injury that would just not heal. Hugo Lloris retired after the World Cup, and, having made his return with Milan vs. Atalanta on February 26th, Maignan has now also returned to the French national team to be named the new number one keeper by Deschamps.

The heavens wept for joy as Maignan made his return

The year 2022 was going so well for Maignan. After having won Ligue 1 with Lille the previous season, he moved to Milan and won the Scudetto in his first season with the club. That began a shower of personal accolades as well, including Serie A's Best Goalkeeper for 2021-22, as well as being named to Serie A's Team of the Year for the year. The AIC (the Italian Footballers' Association) hands out awards voted by the players at the Gran Galà del Calcio, and so he was also awarded Best Goalkeeper for 2021-22 and Serie A's top 11 by his peers. He was nominated for the Ballon d'Or, and finished 25th in the top 30 players. He was also ranked number 5 amongst goalkeepers. The guy he replaced was not even nominated.

He brings so much more to the pitch than just saves

Unfortunately, most of these accolades were being awarded as he was out with his fateful injury, which must have been painfully ironic. That pain had to become even more mental than physical as one month turned into two, then three, then four, then over five months out for both club and country. While Milan were in their Dubai winter camp, there would be videos of the Milan players watching and celebrating their teammates playing in the World Cup. It was difficult for Maignan's face to hide the personal disappointment of not being there, while still being happy for the success of compatriots Theo Hernández and Giroud.

In true Maignan form, the "Magic Eagle" returned to the Milan lineup in both Serie A and the Champions League without skipping a beat, keeping two clean sheets in his first five matches. (Five matches where Milan continued to struggle with their mentality, too.) The goals conceded in those matches were no fault of his, and he made some heart stopping, epic saves along the way to remind us of what we have been missing. His commanding presence and leadership in the back, as well as his ability to press forward and play with his feet were sorely missed. 

It is difficult to know who was happiest for him to return – the team, the fans, or the player himself

The return of Maignan also brings back the missing piece in Pioli's tactical flexibility to return to his favorite 4-2-3-1 attacking style of play. As mentioned after the loss to Udinese, Pioli's tactics have become ineffective as well as ugly. With Maignan at the back, Milan are able to push forward more and play more quick counterattacks by utilizing his strength and precision with long balls. His presence should, in theory, also give more confidence to the defense. And whether Pioli is playing four or five at the back, as those players play more minutes together, their understanding should improve once again and clean sheets should increase as well.

Now Maignan has also returned to Les Bleus, and has been rewarded with the starting spot after Lloris' retirement from international football. He has the opportunity to show the world what we have been missing, and why he is worthy of both Deshchamps' trust and the honor of defending the goal for a nation like France. He will give them a fresh new set of possibilities as well, with different strengths than Lloris had. He opens a new era for them, with the modern style of goalkeeping that he embodies.

France's new number one keeper arrives at Clairefontaine this week

He also has the chance to prove to himself that his injuries are behind him, and that he is truly ready for what he has worked so hard for his entire career. Theo Hernández grew at Milan and eventually proved himself to Deschamps. Giroud came to Milan and proved he could still be counted on, with both of them being integral in France's recent World Cup campaign. Now Maignan can showcase the skills he perfected at Milan that earned him so many trophies in such a short period of time. Everyone benefits from the return of Mike Maignan.

This post inspired by the music of Seal's "Fly Like an Eagle"

The Return of Mike Maignan The Return of Mike Maignan Reviewed by Elaine on 12:00 AM Rating: 5
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