AC Milan made some big moves this summer. At least three players were purchased for €20 million or more, going all the way to €30 million for striker Carlos Bacca.
With all that money flying around, it was easy for a free transfer to fly under the radar. Nineteen-year-old Jose Mauri had been a free agent after his contract was terminated when Parma completed its death throes at the end of last season.
The teen-aged midfielder from Argentina had been a revelation last year. One of the rare bright spots of the Crusaders' scandal-ridden campaign, Mauri attracted attention from everywhere with his play. Eventually it was Milan that gained one of the prizes of the summer free-agent market, signing him to a four-year deal.
But despite coming in with a lot of hype and tons of potential, Mauri has barely seen the field this year. He has received a single start, against Crotone in the Coppa Italia. His only other action came as a sub, in an eight-minute appearance against Sampdoria in the next round. Even as the season progressed and it was clear that Milan's midfield desperately lacked creativity, Mauri continued to ride the bench.
That's a stark contrast to last year, when Roberto Donadoni sent him out 33 times, 29 of them from the opening whistle.
After playing so much last year, this lack of action has him frustrated. Mauri's agent, Dino Zampacorta, told MilanNews.it (h/t Football Italia) on Thursday that his client was "very upset and frustrated" over his lack of game time, and that he was "feeling very let down."
In the same interview, Zampacorta said that the team has no plans on moving the youngster to get him more first-team playing time. If that's true—and if an agent is making noise in this situation it usually means he's trying to force a club's hand—then Milan is making a mistake.
Mauri's signing was always a move for the future. The teenager won't be fully developed for a few years yet. It was likely always the plan to ease him into a larger role.
But what's happening to him now is a little ridiculous. He's been totally buried on the depth chart, which is strange considering Sinisa Mihajlovic's track record with young players. He supervised the emergence of players like Manolo Gabbiadini and Roberto Soriano and turned around the stalled career of Luis Muriel.
For Mauri, no such emergence seems to be on the horizon, though. With Mihajlovic under immense pressure to get Milan to the heights they're used to, he has been forced to play older, more developed players. At this point, gambling on a younger player and losing could see him relinquish his tenuous hold on his position.
Mauri's efforts when he has played haven't helped matters. He was throttled in the game against Crotone and was often outmatched physically by his opponents. While that can come down to a lot of things—mainly a long layoff and unfamiliarity with the team around him—it still did him no favors when it came to competing for spots with established players like Andrea Bertolacci and Riccardo Montolivo.
Still, it's surprising that he hasn't gotten more time, especially given his play last year, when he scored twice, recorded an assist and, according to WhoScored.com, completed 85.3 percent of his passes.
Mauri's potential is sky high, and he can still be an important piece of the future. In order to develop, though, he has to play. That's obviously not going to happen at Milan. The Rossoneri are in the thick of the Europa League race and have an outside shot at the Champions League. Fringe players like Mauri aren't going to get much of a chance, especially given the bloated size of Milan's squad.
If Mauri is going to develop, he must play. To play, he needs to be loaned out. Keeping him on this team is irresponsible. Milan needs to give him more playing time.
Football Italia reported in November that Atalanta and Bologna were monitoring his situation for a January loan. A move to Bologna could be particularly advantageous as it would reunite him with Donadoni.
Wherever he might go, it has to be done in this window. Staying on the roster would make this season a completely lost year. Not loaning him out to get playing time would be irresponsible.