New AC Milan Sensation Patrick Cutrone's Rise from Pare to the San Siro

Adam Digby@@Adz77Featured ColumnistAugust 31, 2017

Milan's Italian forward Patrick Cutrone celebrates after scoring during the Italian Serie A football match FC Crotone vs AC Milan on August 20 2017 at the Ezio Scida Stadium. / AFP PHOTO / CARLO HERMANN        (Photo credit should read CARLO HERMANN/AFP/Getty Images)
CARLO HERMANN/Getty Images

Famous across the world for its idyllic lake and breathtaking scenery, the Italian city of Como needs no introduction. Close to the Alps and boasting beautiful gardens, renowned theatres and no shortage of incredible restaurants, it has become a second home for global celebrities like Madonna, George Clooney and Gianni Versace.

It has been referenced in the work of literary greats from Mark Twain to Ernest Hemingway, while Ian Fleming even cited it as the hideaway for Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Every year, countless visitors flock to the shores of the lake for holidays, drinking in the relaxing atmosphere and unspoilt landscape.

Few venture far from Como itself, and even less make it as far as Pare, a small town found just six kilometres west of Como and close to the border with Switzerland. Indeed, until not too long ago, its only real claim to fame was as the home to Margherita Sarfatti, mistress of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

The main square of Pare is rarely busy.
The main square of Pare is rarely busy.Adam Digby

That all changed just over 10 years ago, when suddenly football scouts began to descend on Pare following rumours of a bright young player making a name for himself with amateur five-a-side team Paradiense.

A seven-year-old had been named best striker at a local tournament, bringing observers from Como, Monza and Serie A's Milan giants, who routinely hoover up the best talent in the Lombardy region.

Patrick Cutrone was the one they had come to see, and he was already stronger, faster and technically better than all those playing alongside him. Perhaps it helped that his childhood was spent trying to score past his brother Christopher.

Three years his senior, the older boy stood between the posts looking to deny his best efforts and now plies his trade as a goalkeeper for Swiss side AS Castello. It would be Inter Milan who first spoke with Patrick's family, only for the Nerazzurri to be "too timid" in their approach, according to a La Gazzetta dello Sport interview with his father Pasquale (link in Italian).

Then the head of recruitment for the AC Milan youth sector, Mauro Bianchessi would show no such reluctance, quickly bringing the promising forward to the club's Vismara training facility.

"Bianchessi was a great scout for us," Milan supporter Michelangelo Gamberini told Bleacher Report. "He was the man who also brought Gianluigi Donnarumma, Manuel Locatelli and Davide Calabria to the club, and they are all now part of the first team."

Replaced this summer as the club's new owners removed many of the men appointed by the previous Silvio Berlusconi-led regime, he landed at Lazio, but there is little doubt that his legacy lives on with the Rossoneri.

Yet even after joining Milan back in 2006, Cutrone had a long and difficult journey ahead of him. Being gifted and knowing where the goal is has never been enough for a striker to progress through the youth ranks of such a giant club, with recent history littered with the names of those who have tried and failed.

Players like Alessandro Matri, Swansea City flop Andrea Paloschi and even Andrea Petagna—who last year fired Atalanta into the UEFA Europa League—have each attempted to do so. All of them came up short.

Behind them there are countless others who looked even more special then faded away, such as Hachim Mastour, an Italian-Moroccan once compared to Neymar but who struggled even at Dutch side PEC Zwolle last term. However, some believe it was always obvious that Cutrone was destined to be something truly special.

"The thing about Cutrone that makes him such an appealing prospect is that what stands out to you the first time you see him is what he's worked most on developing; he's a natural finisher," Milan fan and blogger Pete Acquaviva explained to Bleacher Report. "I first saw him in early 2013, and the thing is, he stood out even then. Shooting with his right, his left, chest, head… I even saw him finish a ball by turning his back and cradling it into the top corner off pace.

"Watching then and looking at him now, what's noticeably changed is his involvement with buildup play. I hear from many supporters that Cutrone lacks prowess there, but I believe this opinion to be due to lack of chances to see him in action.

"He constantly creates opportunities by using positive and negative space, shadowing the back shoulder of the defender, and cutting to receive short passes only to peel off for an over-the-top look. These are techniques that every footballer is taught from a young age, but that it takes years of maturity to actually be able to recognise and implement. He's an incredibly hard worker, to the point you see him exhausting himself after 50-70 minutes on the pitch."

Along the way he scored vital goals, too, never seemingly phased when asked to step up and deliver. He netted against Inter in a number of youth-team derbies and bagged a hat-trick against Germany under-15s, all of which slowly led to his gradual inclusion in the first-team squad.

During last season, Vincenzo Montella routinely called up Cutrone, first naming him as a substitute back in October 2016 for a clash against Pescara. That would continue throughout the campaign until the final home game where, with his side already winning 2-0, the coach decided to give the striker his debut.

Only five minutes remained, but it allowed the 19-year-old to experience San Siro in controlled circumstances. Just over 41,000 people were there to see Cutrone who, according to figures from WhoScored.com, managed one shot, no passes and was booked for a foul before the final whistle blew.

Yet Milan knew they had discovered another gem and were keen to keep him with them even as they revolutionised the squad this summer. Indeed, despite spending at a remarkable rate—including a combined €63 million for strikers Andre Silva and Nikola Kalinic—Montella and sporting director Massimiliano Mirabelli rebuffed all offers for Cutrone.

"I think the reasons are twofold," Milan fan and editor of The Gentleman Ultra website Luca Hodges-Ramon told Bleacher Report. "Firstly, the fixture list is going to be far more demanding with the Europa league this season, and secondly, with the host of new arrivals, I think it's important for the club to keep a player who has come through the youth system. That convinced supporters that this project isn't just about buying talent, but also nurturing it from within."

As Milan embarked on a pre-season tour, that influx of new talent did not stop Montella from fielding Cutrone as a regular member of the side, rewarded by seeing his young protege bag two goals against Bayern Munich.

The coach would then hand Cutrone a start in both legs of a Europa League qualifier against CS Universitatea Craiova. With the second of those coming at home in front of a record crowd for that stage of the competition, the player would bag his first senior goal, but the truth is he was just getting started.

Milan began their 2017/18 Serie A campaign away to Crotone, providing commentators like Matteo Bonetti of bein Sports (see tweet above) with a genuine test of their oral abilities. Yet it would be the Calabrian side's defence that would struggle most, with Cutrone winning a penalty, scoring with a header and laying on another goal for Suso in a 3-0 rout.

He would be on the scoresheet again as the Rossoneri defeated FK Shkendija to reach the group stage of the Europa League, then once more in a tough domestic clash against Cagliari, much to the delight of Montella.

"It was a courageous choice to keep Cutrone as he had so many offers this season," the Milan boss told Sky Italia (h/t Football Italia) recently. "But he is earning his place in the Milan squad with his performances and goals. He works for the team, which is positive."

He now has four goals and an assist in just 370 minutes of action as a professional, with the tweet below showing each of them in all their glory. As you can see, he demonstrates the instincts of a predatory striker, the desire to put his body on the line to get a goal and most impressive of all, ice-cold finishing.

"What's most impressed me about Cutrone is the maturity he has shown in his performances," Luca Hodges-Ramon told Bleacher Report. "His movement is intelligent off the shoulder of the last defender, while he can hold the ball and link play, which allows him to contribute effectively in the attacking phase. He also clearly has that intangible 'striker's instinct,' because if you look at the goals he has scored thus far—headers, snap finishes, tap-ins—he is something of a throwback to the archetypal number nine."

That is undoubtedly true, but the boy known in Pare as "Cutro" still regularly makes the 40 kilometre journey back to the dusty squares of that sleepy town, enjoying a sushi dinner, ice cream and even the occasional beer with his childhood friends.

Yet his Sundays are now spent living out his dreams in front of a packed San Siro and hoping to help fire AC Milan back to glory. Patrick Cutrone has come a long way without ever actually leaving home.

      

*All quotes and information obtained firsthand unless otherwise indicated.