André Silva’s first Serie A goal at the death to elevate Milan to victory lifted the weight off his shoulders and could be just what he needs to find his feet in Italy.
Expectations were enormously high for Milan this season after spending upwards of €200 million in the market, and the marquee signing of André Silva promised to be a real difference maker up front when you consider the club’s recent issues with finding a long-term solution since Zlatan Ibrahimovic departed for Paris.
Adapting to the Italian game was always going to be a bit difficult for Silva. Portugal was all he had ever known, and when a young footballer leaves familiar territory for the first time in his career, patience becomes a virtue. But when you come into a squad with such lofty ambitions, the pressure to succeed takes its toll mentally and if you do not produce, it mounts rather quickly.
In the earlier stages of the season, manager Vincenzo Montella worked off a rotation up front as Nikola Kalinic, Patrick Cutrone and Silva shared duties between competitions. Initially, the Italian boss started with a 4-3-3 before switching to a 3-5-2, a change most believed was to accommodate captain Leonardo Bonucci and solve his problems with the transition from playing with Juventus in a three-man setup. Montella denied that was the reasoning for the tactical adjustment, and although it allowed for the utilisation of a strike-pair, it still failed to render any sort of positive form.
Meanwhile, Silva was often used sparingly in the league with an occasional start mixed in. He received substantial playing time in the UEFA Europa League Group Stage where he tormented softer opponents like Austria Vienna and Rijeka with six goals in nine matches to finish as top scorer in that phase of the tournament. These performances, which most believe should be confidence-inducing displays in Europe, did not translate into Serie A success.
The 22-year old was frozen from the starting lineup due to the Rossoneri’s desperation for offensive production bar Suso, but also partly because of Cutrone’s impressive play. Lump in the fact he had failed to score a single Serie A goal, and together, you now have a legitimate possibility of the plug being pulled and his future at the club in doubt.
Two months ago during the January transfer window, there was reported interest from all over to provide Silva a lifeline and new surroundings to build form ahead of the FIFA World Cup in Russia. Several Premier League and La Liga clubs tossed their name in the ringer for his services, as well as a few Chinese outfits looking to flex their financial muscles on an attractive young striker with potential.
The newly-appointed coach Gennaro Gattuso was faced with questions from the media over the number nine’s future at the club, a topic which the aggressive Italian stood firm on since the day he took over the Milan bench – Silva has a place in the side.
The single most important thing Gattuso has done for Silva’s psyche during this crisis of his was to keep him fighting for his spot; keep him hungry and believing his time would come to make a difference.
Silva’s played second, and sometimes, third fiddle to Cutrone and Kalinic – this despite heavy calls from the supporter base to give the Portugal talent a shot over the Croatian who has been an underwhelming presence in the side since his move over from Fiorentina. Despite a flurry of decent showings from the bench, Silva was still searching for that first league goal to ease the pressure on his shoulders. Suddenly, in the closing stages of Milan’s match this past weekend in Liguria against Genoa, those little shards of positive form began to crystallize.
With Genoa’s organized defence and their goalkeeper Mattia Perin appearing unbeatable at the Luigi Ferraris, Gattuso summoned Silva from the bench to replace Hakan Calhanoglu. As the match went on, and the Rossoblu put numbers behind the ball in search of a point, it appeared that Milan would have to settle with a draw. A bombardment of crosses played in were cleared away by Genoa, but the final one arrived to Bonucci who immediately moved play out wide to Suso for one last stab at a breakthrough.
With the Spaniard predictably cutting in onto his left, Silva instinctually circled into a position where he could meet the cross with a powerful header, and beat an outstretched Perin for the 95th minute winner near post.
Andre Silva’s last gasp winning goal for Milan against Genoa
— Milan Eye (@MilanEye) March 11, 2018
Silva’s heroics at the death sent the traveling fans into a frenzy, and with his teammates swarming him underneath the Curva, you could almost feel the sense of relief from the striker as he dropped to the pitch.
After the final whistle sounded, Silva spoke with Milan TV:
“Scoring means everything to me. I would like to thank everyone: the staff and my teammates.”
Despite scoring an incredibly important goal in the Champions League qualification race, Silva understands that with Cutrone still Gattuso’s first-choice striker, he must keep his head down and battle for his playing time. “If I don’t get to play much it’s because I have to work harder,” he acknowledged.
Hype surrounded Silva’s €38 million move to Milan last summer from Porto. When you are wearing the number nine shirt of the Rossoneri, represented by a high-profile agent in Jorge Mendes and a world football icon like Cristiano Ronaldo publicly endorses you as his successor for the National Team, it comes with the territory.
Life in Italy hasn’t gone over smoothly for the striker who’s debut season in the fashion capital has been nothing short of a struggle, and at the end of the day, this is just one goal. His Serie A stat-line still leaves much to be desired (1 goal in 678 minutes), but for a striker in Silva’s position to score in such a pivotal moment, it could really allow him to turn the corner and find his feet in Italy.
Confidence is paramount for a player’s form, and this could be the mental boost he needs to play freely and support Milan’s hunt for top four. As long as he continues to work and prepare, the opportunity to make a difference will present itself once again.