Charles De Ketelaere has had great difficulty fitting in at AC Milan after arriving from Club Brugge in the summer, but Rossoneri technical director and club legend Paolo Maldini has defended the 21-year-old and advised everyone to be patient with the youngster.
The Belgium international was signed from Club Brugge for €36 million, but he has struggled to earn a regular place in the AC Milan starting XI under coach Stefano Pioli, often benched at the expense of Spanish midfielder Brahim Diaz.
To star 2023, De Ketelaere came off the bench in the 63rd minute in the 2-1 win away to Salernitana, played for just five minutes in the 2-2 draw at home to AS Roma and remained on the bench in the 2-2 draw away to Lecce in Serie A.
Before he was limited to a cameo of 25 minutes in AC Milan‘s 3-0 defeat in the Supercoppa Italiana against city rivals Inter, the 21-year-old was given a rare start against Torino in the Round 16 of the Coppa Italia, which the Rossoneri lost 1-0 after extra time.
Maldini claims that De Ketelaere is at AC Milan to stay
De Ketelaere played for the whole 120 minutes against the Granata, but he struggled to make an impact, first operating as a false nine and then playing in his preferred attacking midfielder role.
Criticism of the Belgian starlet did not sit well with Maldini, who ensured that the former Club Brugge footballer will be an important player for AC Milan in the long term.
“We are talking about a 21-year-old player, for whom a long-term plan has been made,” Maldini said.
“You cannot think that a Coppa Italia match in January is the last resort. You need balance.”
De Ketelaere not enough to mask depth issues at AC Milan
To write De Ketelaere off after one bad performance is unfair on the youngster, but his campaign in general has not been impressive at all, playing 15 Serie A matches, failing to score in any of them, and supplying one assist.
However, AC Milan‘s problems go beyond the Belgian’s inability to adapt to Italian football. Pioli has had to deal with a plethora of injuries throughout the 2022/23 season, and in most positions, the second-choice option is relatively weak.
Ciprian Tatarusanu is no match for Mike Maignan in goal, Sergino Dest cannot be compared to Davide Calabria in defence, and Tommaso Pobega cannot operate as a deep-lying playmaker like Sandro Tonali.
Up front, the issue is worse. Olivier Giroud is 36 years old and he is not fit enough to play week in, week out; Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been out for most of the season; and Divock Origi has also struggled for fitness and form since arriving from Liverpool.
De Ketelaere has not provided the panacea up front but he should not be given the responsibility to fix AC Milan‘s problems instantaneously. Pioli must give him a platform to utilise his talents in the best way possible.