It’s been evident that Milan have been looking for a player to fill the trequartista role, or the role where an attacking midfielder is deployed behind two strikers in a 4-3-1-2 formation. For the past few seasons, Milan have shied away from using a formation that includes a trequartista and have instead opted for a wider 4-3-3 formation. This season, Siniša Mihajlović has been hesitant to change and a certain Empoli playmaker could have made it gel tremendously.
Milan’s roster does have some names capable of playing in the crucial playmaker position such as Giacomo Bonaventura, Keisuke Honda, the newly re-acquired Kevin Prince-Boateng and even Jérémy Ménez once he returns. All seem like decent options, but none of the mentioned names have been able to stand out and make a statement to the coach that they should be starting in this role every week. Bonaventura and Honda seem to lack the flare and consistency to take up such a crucial role every week. Boateng has just arrived and he still would require much needed adaptation. Meanwhile, Ménez has been out injured and won’t be back for another few weeks. He could be a solution to Milan’s trequartista problem, but it remains to be seen.
Throughout the summer mercato, Mihajlović made it clear to the management that he needed a creative midfielder to fill a giant void in midfield. The man he called for was Italian international, Roberto Soriano, of Sampdoria. The former Sampdoria boss never received the player he pushed the club to sign and he has now been left with the options he currently has at his disposal, which has made it difficult for Milan to create chances in front of goal for summer signings Luiz Adriano, Carlos Bacca, Mario Balotelli and M’Baye Niang. The irony in all of this is Milan had a player that was well-suited to become a long-term solution to the number 10 problem, but this player was never given the chance he deserved. Of course, we are talking about Empoli’s Riccardo Saponara.
Saponara arrived to Milan on July 1, 2013 for a fee of 4.8m euros. He was brought to club by Adriano Galliani with the purpose of being Milan’s solution to the missing piece needed to play behind the strikers. With the departure of Kevin-Prince Boateng later on that summer to Schalke, it seemed like the U-21 Italian international was going to get his chance to show Milan and its fans that he was a player with plenty of potential as seen throughout his time playing in Serie B for Empoli. Eventually, Milan would bring back Ricardo Kaká and Saponara would mostly see the bench more than seeing playing time on the pitch that season and the seasons to follow.
Finally, Saponara had enough and was granted a loan move back to his beloved Empoli in the 2014/2015 January mercato. Thanks to his good form, the move was made permanent in this season’s summer window as the azzurri would pay the buyout clause included in the loan deal. Since his return to Empoli last January, Saponara has scored 12 goals and gathered 10 assists, via WhoScored.com. Ironically, one of those twelve goals would be scored against the team who never gave Saponara the chance in the first place, which of course, is Milan.
Each week, Saponara continues to prove why Milan dropped the ball completely on him. He shows the consistency, class, and composure that none of Milan’s trequartista options seem to possess at this moment. At the age of only 24 years old, there is plenty of time for the young Empoli midfielder to get even better than he is now. Each game, he continues to grow and he’s often been referred to by many calcio fans as being one of the best trequartisti in Italy.
Milan had a potential world class midfielder in their hands and they let him walk away because of the club’s inability to see just how good Riccardo Saponara truly can be. Once coined “The Kaka of Serie B,” he was an afterthought for the rossoneri and given false promises by a club that was promising him the world. Now every week, Milanisti, all over the world continue to witness a player that could have been such a crucial piece for a club that desperately needs an injection of class and creativity. Milan are already regretting not giving the young Empoli man a chance. Just 8 matches for him in a red and black kit is simply not enough to judge a player on, especially a young talent with a ceiling to break through.
The club will regret the decision to cut Saponara loose even more as he continues to get better and potentially become one of the best attacking midfielders in Europe, whether it be for Empoli, an Italian giant or another top club.