M'Baye Niang: Why Chelsea Should Still Sign France's Next Great Striker...
AC Milan is no longer the home to the game’s elder statesmen but a crop of some of the most exciting young talents in the game.
Stephan El Shaarawy, Mattia Sciglio and M’Baye Niang are part of the fresh-faced new generation leading the Rossoneri’s charge to the top of the table again.
Niang, in particular, has been a spectacular addition to the side after Milan saw off Premier League clubs Manchester City and Arsenal along with reported interest from Juventus to sign the then 17-year-old for €3.5m from French side Caen in the summer.
As the second-youngest player to have scored in Ligue 1 and having represented France at every youth level through to the Under-21s, Niang was already a regular on the Caen bench when he was just 15.
Arriving at Milan with something of a reputation as a bit of a teenager tear-away, he had his wings clipped early on by the club’s vice president Adriano Galliani after he was stopped by traffic police without a driver’s licence when he had borrowed fellow new signing Bakaye Traòre’s car - and then to make matters worse pretending to be Traòre.
It was an incident that obviously did not go down well with the Milan hierarchy but the lesson was quickly learnt and from there a club driver has ferried the youngster wherever he wants to go which under club’s strict policy for young players, is generally from the Milanello training centre to his city apartment.
However, once away from Milan’s watchful eye he was soon grabbing the headlines again when he was banned by the French federation until the end of 2013 for skipping a curfew with the Under-21s to hop in a taxi with a couple of teammates for a night out - the problem was that the night was in Paris when the team were based some three hours to the north of the capital.
Rather than read the riot act, it was decided that the best approach was to show the player the photographs of the likes of Rudd Gullit, Marco Van Basten, Paolo Maldini, Ricky Kaka and the rest of the legends that adorn the walls of Milanello and point out that it was their professional approach on and off the pitch that had made them genuine stars.
The arm around the shoulder approach has definitely paid off as Massimiliano Allegri had seen enough of the player’s extravagant skills and searing pace in training that he could no longer hold him back.
He stepped on the pitch for all of sixty seconds in the second league match of the season at Bologna but it was when he came on as a substitute in the Italian Cup tie at home to Reggina in November that a new star was born as he netted twice and in doing so became the second-youngest goalscorer in Milan history after the legendary Gianni Rivera.
Allegri was eager to introduce the player to the rigors of Serie A but felt that playing him through the middle of the attack would only leave him open to the central defensive assassins so he applied his natural pace to the right flank.
He waited to the turn of the year and a trip to Sampdoria who were coming off a win at leaders Juventus to hand him his starting debut and Niang did not disappoint as turned Alberto Costa inside out from the first minute and even left the foot in to pick up a yellow card.
The arrival of Mario Balotelli had the Italian media swooning over the youthful, spikey-haired frontline Milan now had at their disposal and along with El Shaarawy, Niang became part of the “Three Crests” - not that Allegri was in anyway impressed.
As soon as a moment of petulance reared up when Niang demanded to take a free-kick instead of Balotelli and had to be physically removed from standing over the ball by Sulley Muntari - Balo of course scored - he found himself on the bench for the next game.
However, Allegri and his assistant Mauro Tassotti have been impressed with Niang’s ice-cool style and in the first leg of their Champions League tie with Barcelona he came on as a late substitute to help set-up Muntari for the second goal in the 2-0 win.
Galliani has already sensed that the sharks from the Premiership are circling and tied the player down to a new contract until 2017.
He was in the starting line-up for the return to become the second-youngest Milan player to do so - two months younger that Alexandre Pato when he played against Arsenal back in 2008.
He could have written himself further into the record book just after 20 minutes when he gracefully raced through the Barca defence but his well-hit shot came back off the post. The score was 1-0 at the time and two minutes later Leo Messi doubled the Catalans’ advantage and rest as they say was indeed history.
However, Niang will have plenty of opportunities to enjoy memorable European nights of his own.