Why is AC Milan’s Mike Maignan taking so long to return from injury?

Mike Maignan has been sorely missed by AC Milan, and his injury problems have dragged on for a lot longer than anybody could have expected. But why has it taken so long for the goalkeeper to recover?

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Having played his last game for AC Milan in mid-September 2022, Mike Maignan‘s absence has been sorely felt on the pitch as the trademark defensive compactness that characterised a very solid and title-winning Rossoneri side last season has gone, inflicting a major blow to their title defence hopes.

Stefano Pioli‘s Milan have conceded 30 goals from 22 Serie A fixtures this season, just one shy of the tally they conceded in the whole previous domestic campaign and Maignan’s injuries arguably played a huge part in taking certainties away from their rearguard.

While sporting director Paolo Maldini insisted the Frenchman would be back imminently, the little knowledge about the physical issues that have kept him sidelined for so long ended up frustrating both the fans and the club.

Sassuolo’s Domenico Berardi sees his penalty saved by AC Milan’s Mike Maignan. REUTERS/Jennifer Lorenzini

Maignan’s importance in Milan’s defence

When AC Milan secured their 19th scudetto back in May 2022 there were little doubts about the main reasons behind their success. While Rafael Leao meteoric growth and Stefano Pioli’s ability to create a great team spirit were definitely among them, the discovery of Mike Maignan also played a prominent role in helping the Rossoneri build a rock-solid defence.

While his signing from French champions Lille was overlooked by many, the goalkeeper took little time to prove his worth, as both his playing style and his authority inside the penalty box gave the whole rearguard a feeling of safety that ended up discouraging Milan’s opponents from even mounting attacks, given the difficulties in penetrating through the Rossoneri’s defensive wall.

Maignan ended the Serie A 2021/22 campaign with an impressive 17 clean sheets, which earned him the best goalkeeper of the season award. His importance, however, was made even more evident by his absence – the goalkeeper missed nine matches across all competitions between October and November 2021 and the Rossoneri managed to keep just two clean sheets from that series of games, conceding nine goals in the process.

When is AC Milan’s Maignan coming back?

Noah Okafor of RB Salzburg scores past Mike Maignan. (REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger)

This was just a sneak peek of what would happen in the following season, 2022/23, when Maignan played the first seven Serie A games before picking up a calf injury while on international duty with France, but it was just the beginning of an endless nightmare for the Rossoneri.

The goalkeeper’s recovery process was hindered by another and more serious calf issue, which ruled Maignan out of the 2022 World Cup, putting his return to action off to the new year. What was worse, a feeling of uncertainty began to surround the whole situation, as the medical staff noticed little improvement as the weeks went by.

Meanwhile, AC Milan’s defence started to crumble, as they were able to keep one only clean sheet at Cremonese (in a 0-0 draw) from 11 Serie A games played between October and February with back-up Ciprian Tatarusanu between the posts. A recent 1-0 win over Torino finally stopped the trend, following some tactical tweaks from Stefano Pioli.

Things got even stranger at the end of the World Cup, when the French goalkeeper still felt pain in his calf, forcing Pioli to admit that he did not know how long his recovery process would still take.

However, according to what Paolo Maldini said ahead of their Torino fixture, Maignan should be finally fit in a few days, although the sporting director also stressed that the player will “take time” to refind his best form.

While it would be hasty to set a specific date for his return after a four-month absence, Milan’s hopes are that Maignan will be able to start in the second leg of their Champions League last-16 tie against Tottenham, to help the Rossoneri build on their tight advantage and opening up exciting new perspectives in the major European competition.

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