Believe the Hype: Can Mastour master Milan’s no.10 role?

playmaker young star

Meet Hachim Mastour: Milan’s playmaking wonderkid

AC Milan have been used to having some of the world’s best fantasisti in their ranks during their illustrious history. The likes of Gianni Rivera, Dejan Savicevic, Roberto Baggio, Rui Costa, Kaka (MkI) and Andrea Pirlo have all graced the famous Rossoneri colours.

Such has been the decline of Serie A’s must successful European club however, more recently they’ve had to content themselves with the likes of Kevin Prince Boateng, Adel Taarabt, Keisuke Honda and Kaka (MkII) playing the trequartista role.

The San Siro club’s 2013/14 campaign has been so disastrous that the faith and future has now been entrusted to a 15-year old who could make his debut in the season’s last game – wonderkid, Hachim Mastour.

On Tuesday Adriano Galliani, the club’s colourful CEO, announced that Mastour would be joining up with the first team squad ahead of next season. The news has been welcomed in most quarters given the negative aura which has persisted for most of the campaign, particularly given the hype surrounding the intensely skillful number 10 who has dazzled in Milan’s youth groups since signing as a 14-year old from Reggiana for a reported €500,000, in 2012. A promising cameo from a potential future great could do wonders to change off-season pessimism into optimism.

Born in Reggio Emilia, Italy, to Moroccan parents, Mastour has become accustomed to hype since the age of 10 when Reggiana signed him; which increased particularly after it was reported that Inter, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester City all definitely wanted to sign him. Inter came closest, with the youngster even representing the Nerazzurri in a couple of youth tournaments, all whilst officially remaining a Reggiana product due to Italian laws preventing him from leaving the local area full-time, before the age of 14.

Unperturbed, Galliani, who had been tipped off about the outrageously talented youth by Arrigo Sacchi (as a stand-out performer for Italy’s junior sides), pressed ahead of Inter and snatched Mastour from under their city rivals’ nose, once aged 14 – no doubt helped by Mastour’ representatives having links to a certain Kaka.

Videos soon emerged of this young phenomenon gliding round opposition players with ease whilst impressing with Milan’s Under-16 side – and, on occasion, Pippo Inzaghi’s Under-20s. Hype was further ramped up when Nike threw a 10 year sponsorship deal at him, and further still, when this particular Youtube clip went viral, as Mastour faced-off against Brazilian star Neymar in a freestyle skills battle – and beating him.

Mastour has certainly had a fair share of the limelight already. Will he feel any pressure on first team duty, then?

If he is, it wasn’t evident during his first training session with the seniors; applauded by the entire first team squad as he entered the changing rooms (trailed by Milan TV cameras who reported the event to a fanfare), and once out onto the field, scoring a goal – naturally.

If Mastour makes his debut on Sunday he will eclipse Paolo Maldini as Milan’s youngest ever player, and become the fifth youngest ever player in the history of Serie A – a list which includes another Milan legend and former wonderkid who went on to inspire the club to a golden period, playmaker Gianni Rivera.

Then the pressure on Mastour would surely ramp up to levels even he is yet to experience.  After all, life at the top is a whole other ball game, as so many other talented starlets have subsequently found over the years.

Perfectly suited to the trequartista role and now donning the number 10 shirt, Mastour has drew many comparisons; although he seems to already have his own distinct style, perhaps sharing certain similarities with Juan-Roman Riquelme, Kaka and Zinedine Zidane – using the soles of his feet on the ball to effortlessly dribble round opponents, nutmeg and bewitch with trickery. Not to mention an important change of direction and pace.

As Milan’s under-17s coach, Omar Danesi, told Gazzetta dello Sport recently:

It is impossible to take the ball from Hachim. He can run at breakneck speed. He has grown so much this year, especially in his work with the rest of the team. He is very young and there is a lot of scope for improvement. For the talent he has he is definitely a player to play at the San Siro [for Milan]. But he is very young and should be allowed to grow with calmness.

However, if you’re good enough, you’re old enough, as the old adage goes. And having already produced Rivera, Mazzola, Antognoni, Baggio, Del Piero, Totti and Cassano – all teen sensations in Serie A – have Italy unearthed yet another star number 10?

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