If his right leg was as good as his left leg, Arek Milik could have been a world champion. Fighting against eternal doubts and being tormented by severe injuries, a beautiful jubilee on familiar ground still beckons.
In the absence of superstar Robert Lewandowski, who is getting some rest, the Polish hope is based on brilliant inspiration from Milik. In the Johan Cruijff Arena he hopes to shine against the Dutch in his fifties, just as he did in the same spot in Ajax’ shirt.
“The difference between my left and my right is too big…” Milik was critical at the time. Just as the contrast with Lewandowski is huge, if not disproportionate.
The striker from Bayern Munich recently won his seventeenth major prize in the Champions League, including nine national titles. Milik only captured his first grand prize this year, as far as the Coppa Italia tournament still has that status for a team that actually wanted to knock the unapproachable Juventus off his throne in Serie A in recent years.
Fighting against big names, Milik already had to compete at Ajax (2014-2016), where the public had been spoiled over the years by players like Marco van Basten, Patrick Kluivert and Luis Suárez. Strikers who mastered the field to perfection and created surreal high expectations with their successors.
But thanks to his willpower Milik was also able to manage on one leg. Former player Ronald de Boer called his left one of the best he had ever seen at Ajax. When in his second year, partly due to a series of great goals, he had finally overcome the scepticism, technical director Marc Overmars chose eggs for his money when Napoli suddenly laid 32 million euros for the Pole on the table.
And gone was Milik, a killer like his successors Mateo Cassierra and Kasper Dolberg would never be.
Now, four years later, the attacker is back. Cynical enough in a game against the big squad. A topper in the Nations League, where he was rarely allowed to show up in big games in his Ajax-time. Except for the one time he got PSV on his knees with a leading role, titled as his big revenge. “I don’t care what people say or write about me.”
That’s a good thing too. Milik has to leave Napoli, says Maurizio Nicita who follows the club on behalf of the pink sports newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport. His contract expires next summer, so his current club can still earn some money from him. And the intended new attack leader is Victor Osimhen, for an amount of around seventy million euros transferred from Lille.
“I need to think about my future now. I have to make an important decision,” Milik says about his situation. According to Nicita, AS Roma has the best paperwork to incorporate the old Ajacied, but according to him it may still take a few weeks before the transfer market in Italy really gets going.
His patience has often been put to the test. During the eternal rehabilitation, after repeated severe injuries to his knees. “I didn’t believe I’d ever be able to return to my old level. But in the end, everything went the way I wanted it to,” he looks back on the years when he sometimes feared for his career.
With a bit of luck everything will coincide for Milik, who may hit his old teammate Joël Veltman as a direct opponent.
“We are playing against one of the best teams in the world. We expect a very tough match”, Milik tempers the expectations. “I’m glad to be back here after four years. I’ve scored a lot of goals and had a lot of great moments.”
Only 26 years old is the striker who seems to have had a whole football life behind him. But from a different perspective Milik is now really starting the big work.
Click here for a preview of Arek Milik’s match against the Netherlands: