Gennaro Gattuso is surprised Hakan Calhanoglu has stepped up to become “such a complete player” since Vincenzo Montella was sacked as AC Milan coach in November.
Calhanoglu joined Milan as part of a significant recruitment drive in pre-season, with the club paying a reported €22million for him after emerging as a rising star at Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga.
But Montella – who ultimately lost his job – struggled to get his newly assembled squad to gel during the first few months of the season, with Calhanoglu among those to endure a difficult time.
Things have been better for the Turkey international since Gattuso took charge, though, with Calhanoglu highlighting at the end of January that a change in formation has helped him, as has his new coach’s man-management skills.
And Gattuso has been pleasantly surprised by the impact he has had on Calhanoglu, who turned 24 on Thursday.
Speaking to reporters at his pre-match news conference before Saturday’s trip to SPAL, Gattuso said: “The whole team has improved, in my opinion.
“But honestly, I didn’t expect Hakan to step up the way he has. 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.
“I always try to field the best team. I’m very pleased with my players, with their commitment and desire they show on the pitch.
“We need to keep up the momentum because when you win it’s easier to prepare for the next match. It’s a must to continue getting positive results and to give playing time to as many players as possible. This way we also administrate our energy levels.”
While Gattuso will be hoping Calhanoglu can continue his recent resurgence against SPAL, Nikola Kalinic will have to watch from home, with the Croatian striker to be rested after only recently recovering from a thigh problem.
“We decided not to risk Kalinic and to give him three to four days of rest to avoid losing him for longer,” Gattuso added.
“We have Patrick Cutrone, Andre Silva and Fabio Borini who can also play up front, in my opinion.”