On the 16th June 2020, Jens Petter Hauge scored the game tying goal for former club Bodo/Glimt to make it 2-2, in an eventual 4-2 victory against Viking. The Norwegian league (Eliterien) had a delayed start to their season due to the Covid pandemic. It was scheduled to start in March.
Football in the Scandinavian nation started their pre-season two months earlier. Why am I talking about the Norwegian league on a Milan related article? Well, for context.
Recent signing Hauge was left off the Rossoneri's list for their Europa League campaign and needless to say, it caused a reaction from Milanisti.
A mixture of anger, disappointment, resignation etc. were echoed by fans. However, there were some that understood the decision taken.
Maybe the exclusion could be because the forward had been playing for a year straight, that he needed a rest. Also, that it could be a reason why his performances had dropped off in recent times.
Now, whether or not that was the right decision by coach Stefano Pioli and the other decision makers, will be left to be seen. However, at this time, they deserve the benefit of the doubt. He is of-course still there for the Serie A campaign, which let's not forget, Il Diavolo is atop the standings.
Let's look back at when he was signed.
The Bodo born player joined Milan on the 1st October, which by that time, he would have been playing for nine months consistently. That was a total of 21 games, of which he garnered a highly impressive 17 strikes on goal. No wonder Paolo Maldini and co. had their interest peaked, by this talented creative star.
Taking that into account, when he joined the seven times European champions, he would have already been three-quarter into his year. At that point, the majority of players are at their peak and fully entrenched into their season. The fact that he had to make the adjustment to a completely new league, new culture, new language, new type of football etc...would have all had an effect on the youngster.
He still made his debut three days later and scored his first goal in a vital 3-1 wins against Celtic in the Europa League. Unfortunately though, just a few days later, he was diagnosed with Covid and had to enter quarantine. Again, this is another factor that could have affected him in the following months.
Not an excuse, but, maybe it's worth a mention.
Following his recovery, he came out the blocks flying with some assured performances.
A lovely chipped goal versus Napoli in a 3-1 away win in Serie A and two goals in the Europa League in consecutive games, both in winning efforts, signaled a player showing his worth to his new team. This however is important to note, at that point, it was early December and that would have normally been the end of the season in Norway.
Whether is was physical or mental, Hauge's performances dropped off soon after.
Since then, he has appeared in six games, two as a starter, but no goals and no assists added to his name.
That ability to take on defenders and weave through the defense (like his lovely goal against Celtic), was not at the time... His quick train of thought seemed to have lost a step. Previously, whenever he got the ball, fans got off their seats at the anticipation of something exciting happening. That has not happened.
Now, let me make it clear, this is in no way, shape or form a criticism of Hauge. As mentioned earlier in the article, his campaign would have already ended usually and he would have been on his vacation, probably on some beach somewhere spending quality time with his loved ones.
Now, let's talk about the make-up of Milan's team.
Multiple reports mentioned that the one of Hauge, Rade Krunic or Soualiho Meite were the candidates to be left out. Looking afar, Stefano Pioli probably figured that with Ante Rebic and the in-form Rafael Leao, the left side of the attack in his 4-2-3-1 formation was covered. Could Hauge have been used on the right side through? Perhaps...That is usually occupied by the ever present Alexis Saelemaekers and the much maligned Samu Castillejo.
We must remember that UEFA allows a limit on players and has rules on local and youth players, neither of which Hauge fits in. Serie A of-course allows for more.
The central midfielder of Milan played a key role as well.
Franck Kessie and Ismael Bennacer are the unquestioned starters as we all know. However, the next three in line, Sandro Tonali, Rade Krunic and new signing Soualiho Meite are all required to provide that cover in the middle of the park. At least that is what could be the thinking of coach Pioli.
It was not an easy decision for Pioli and co. to make, but given the vast improvement in the team over the past year, let's trust in them.
Milan are chasing a first Scudetto for a decade and who knows, Hauge's contribution in the upcoming 18 games could prove crucial in that pursuit.