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Hakan Çalhanoğlu has a reputation as a free-kick specialist, but the Turkish international has far, far more to his game than just a penchant for the spectacular.
Milan’s No.10 is a player of guile and creativity, an attacking midfielder with the vision to provide for his teammates and the technique to score from almost anywhere on the pitch.
That is why the 25-year-old is reportedly a target for Leicester and West Ham ahead of the summer transfer window. Çalhanoğlu could be available for €30million, not extortionate for a player who has improved considerably since joining Milan in 2017.
When he signed for the Rossoneri after three years with Bayer Leverkusen, Çalhanoğlu had plenty to prove. He was still young – just 23 – and was joining a club with a large and expectant fan base. From the beginning, there was pressure.
Çalhanoğlu had a brief period of adjustment but did not take long to settle in Italy. He soon became a key player for Milan, the focal point of their attacks. And when Gennaro Gattuso was appointed as the club’s manager, his influence grew.
“Honestly, I didn’t expect Hakan to step up the way he has,” Gattuso said in February last year. “He is only 24 years old; I like him a lot and he has impressed me. I didn’t expect him to be such a complete player.”
In his first season at Milan, Çalhanoğlu scored eight goals and provided 11 assists. His productivity in front of goal has declined this campaign, but he already has nine assists to his name.
Clearly, then, Çalhanoğlu is not simply in the team for his set pieces. In Serie A this season, he ranks within the top ten midfielders for open play key passes – 1.89 per 90 minutes – and is fifteenth for assists – 0.21 per 90.
He is not afraid to go for goal from distance, either, and averages of 2.07 shots from outside the box per 90.
There is, of course, still room for improvement. Çalhanoğlu has often been criticised for a lack of consistency, and with a more clinical edge, he could significantly improve his goalscoring output.
The German-born Turk is not the quickest of players and has struggled, at times, to adapt to his role on the left of a front three in Gattuso’s system. He has been utilised in a deeper role, too, but Çalhanoğlu has always appeared more comfortable playing as a No.10.
Importantly, though, Çalhanoğlu is versatile, capable of contributing from a variety of positions. Whether operating as a No.6 or playing in a more advanced role, he is an excellent passer of the ball and boasts a ferociously powerful shot.
His free kicks can come in handy, too, as Bayer discovered when he struck one past Borussia Dortmund’s Roman Weidenfeller from 50 yards out in 2014.
Çalhanoğlu has impressed on the international stage, too, earning comparisons with a No.10 who chose to represent Die Mannschaft instead of Turkey.
“It’s thanks to the Germans that I became a footballer,” Çalhanoğlu told the Milliyet newspaper in 2012. “But playing for the Turkish national team is an honour. I want to be Turkey’s Mesut Özil.”
There are certainly similarities between the two. Technically, both are exceptional but leave a little to be desired in other areas. Which is why Çalhanoğlu might not thrive in the high-tempo, often frenetic, environment of the Premier League.
He is not lacking in quality, though, and he has proven at Milan that he is capable of living up to expectations. Whether a move to England’s top flight appeals to Çalhanoğlu – or indeed whether Milan would be willing to sell him – remains to be seen.
For Leicester and West Ham, the intention is clearly to add extra quality to their respective attacks. But both will need to consider where Çalhanoğlu would fit in.
James Maddison, who occupies the No.10 role for the Foxes, has enjoyed an excellent season since arriving from Norwich last summer. And West Ham have quality options in Felipe Anderson and Manuel Lanzini, both of whom prefer to play in similar positions to Çalhanoğlu. The latter is injury prone, so a replacement for him may be on the Hammers’ shortlist.
Çalhanoğlu is a gifted footballer, with more room to improve and plenty to offer any potential suitors. The decision, now, for Leicester and West Ham, is whether he is worth potentially parting with €30million.