Player Profile: M’Baye Niang

After a successful loan spell with Genoa last season, Milan striker M’Baye Niang has returned back to the rossoneri hungry, motivated and determined to make a statement with the Italian giants.

This season, much like the last few, has been another bumpy one for Milan. There has been little to boast about from the supporters. As it stands, the club sits in 8th place and on the outside looking in at the party that is European competition. However, there have been a few bright spots instilling hope amongst those who adore the red and black. One of those brights spots has been the emergence of M’Baye Niang.

Niang and His Path

Niang has undergone a career of many up’s and down’s. On August 28, 2012, with many suitors from England in pursuit of his signature, Niang was purchased by Milan from French club Caen for an estimated €3m, via transfermarkt. Along with Stephan El Shaarawy and Mario Balotelli, the 21-year old starlet was to be a key component to the attacking “tridente” for years to come.

Soccer - Mario Balotelli - AC Milan signing
Press Association Images (left to right) AC Milan’s M’Baye Niang, Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaarawy posing for a photograph.

However, Balotelli was sold to Liverpool before his eventual return on loan this season, while El Shaarawy’s Milan career remains in limbo. You didn’t think M’Baye Niang would be the one to stick around the longest out of the three did you?

The potential is and has always been there for Niang. Few have ever doubted his ability. Standing in at 1,84 metres (roughly 6 foot), Niang has been compared to teammate Mario Balotelli for his blend of size, strength, speed and physicality on the ball. Even as a young teenager in France, he received massive praise from Caen’s current youth coach Philippe Tranchant, who was quoted saying: “At this club we’ve never seen a player like him before.” In recent years, Milan has made some head-scratching moves in the market, however the haul of Niang was one of the few that has paid off.

With a high ceiling and years full of football left in his young career, Niang got his first true taste of UEFA Champions League football in the second leg of the Round of 16 clash with Spanish giants Barcelona. On that February 2013 night under the bright lights of Camp Nou, the young striker started by his lonesome self up front for Massimiliano Allegri. Of course, Milan had already acquired Balotelli by this time but he was ineligible to play as he was cup tied due to his featuring with Manchester City. So, with the Rossoneri holding to a narrow 2-1 lead on aggregate, Niang had the golden opportunity to pad the lead between the two clubs before the first half whistle blew. Unfortunately Niang, with just Victor Valdes to beat, had his attempt shank off the post. The blaugrana went on to hammer Allegri’s men 4-0, sending the seven-time trophy winners packing. Some marked this miss by Niang as the one that perhaps hindered any premature growth to his career.

After failing to get much time under Allegri during the first half of the 2013-14 season, Niang was sent out on loan, returning home to France to play for Montpellier. The gifted forward managed to find the back of the net 4 times in nineteen Ligue 1 matches.

Despite speculation as to whether or not he would ever play in a Milan shirt again, Niang began the 2014-15 campaign under Pippo Inzaghi only to make few appearances. In hopes of helping him find continuity in playing time, Galliani sent the French international on loan-without a buyback option- to Genoa. For Niang, it was the perfect move. He received a huge increase in starting minutes under Gian Piero Gasperini, yielding 5 goals and three assists. It was clear that Niang could hack it in the tough Serie A. All he needed was to be trusted and given the space to prove himself.

This season, Niang has repaid Siniša Mihajlović for giving him a shot to succeed. He’s looking confident as ever up front alongside Carlos Bacca. After scoring his first Serie A goals in a 4-1 romping of Sampdoria earlier this season, Adriano Galliani took some credit of his own for trusting his instincts to reject all pursuits of the attacker after a strong spell with the rossoblu. Galliani, via Goal.com:

“I brought Niang to the club at a young age and last year I resisted the interest of Genoa, who wanted an option to buy him during his loan spell. But we didn’t give in…I would like to praise Niang in particular. He was fantastic and he is just 20 years old (now 21). We now have an important player for the team.”

With 5 goals and two assists in eleven matches between Serie A and Coppa Italia play, Niang has given the club a much needed spark and has been a clutch performer all season long. In the quarter-final match against Carpi, it was Niang’s goal that carried the Rossoneri into the semi-final round of the coveted TIM Cup, which could be Milan’s lifeline to getting back into Europe.

Despite exceeding expectations this season, Niang will soon face stiff competition for his starting spot up front in the 4-3-3. Last year’s club leader in goals, Jérémy Ménez, is on his way back from injury and Mario Balotelli has already rehabbed his way back into the squad.

Even though Niang has shown Mihajlović a lot this season, deep down he knows he has two quality options for the attack on the hunt for his spot. So, in a Twitter poll, the question was raised:

Take from it what you may.

What’s Next For Niang?

Niang has obviously made large strides forward in his playing career this past year. He has matured on and off the pitch and is enjoying his football in Italy; who can blame him? As stated before, Niang has all of the necessary tools to become a mainstay with Milan. We’ve played witness to the array of qualities he possesses this season, yet M’Baye would agree that their is still much more left to show the world of football.

M’Baye Niang has yet to make his debut for France’s senior squad. It’s highly unlikely that he gets the call up to represent his country this summer as they host the Euro 2016. However, if he can continue to improve and steadily make the necessary adjustments, there is hope for him to be on the plane to Moscow in 2018 for the FIFA World Cup should Les Bleus qualify.

Through time, effort and persistence, M’Baye Niang has begun to show why the minimal investment a few years ago by Milan was worth every penny.

Ahead of Milan-Fiorentina, be sure to check out our collaboration partner @SerieAScouted (serieascouted.wordpress.com) who has highlighted the key winger matchup between Federico Bernardeschi and Giacomo Bonaventura. Check in post-match as each blog weighs in on the Sunday clash.

 

 

 

 

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