As Manchester City prepared their record-breaking £100M+ bid for Kaka, the relaxed nature of many in the Milan hierarchy was surprising. But those in the know understand that the Italian giants have many talents waiting to claim a spot in the side, one of those is young attacking midfielder Yoann Gourcuff.
Gourcuff is currently on loan at Bordeaux in his homeland, a decision that plenty in the Italian peninsula were surprised Milan’s Carlo Ancelotti took. Long before Gourcuff set sail to find first team football in Ligue 1 his talent was appreciated, as well as his potential, which team-mates have described as "limitless". Not that Bordeaux coach Laurent Blanc was complaining when the 22 year-old arrived at the Stade Chaban-Delmas. Blanc understood the qualities Gourcuff could add to his side, and even though it was unlikely Bordeaux would be able to retain his services permanently, this was an opportunity too good to miss.
Gourcuff was brought to Milan in the summer of 2006 after impressing at Rennes the previous season. Even then comparisons with Zinedine Zidane were whispered, and it is a sign of how far he has come that they are still made, and now spoken aloud. Milan appreciated the potential Gourcuff had to offer and tied him to a 5-year contract at the San Siro.
The young Frenchman’s start at Milan did not go according to plan as Ancelotti overlooked him time and time again. In his first season at the San Siro Gourcuff started just 15 games, six in Serie A, five in the Champions League, and four in the Coppa Italia. The youngster was clearly concerned about his lack of playing time in a red and black shirt, and communicated this to the Milan management at the end of the 2006/07 season. According to sources Gourcuff was told not to worry, that next season he would play far more. The first season had been for learning about Milan and Italian football and his fears were misplaced. But the 2007/08 season held only disappointment. His total playing time in Serie A? Just four starts. From Gourcuff’s point of view something had to change.
Milan felt they had two options; 1. Gourcuff could remain at the San Siro and fight for his place. He would undoubtedly learn amongst such talented pros as Kaka and Clarence Seedorf. Or 2. Milan could allow Gourcuff to go out on loan for a season in search of first-team football. Gourcuff himself obviously had an input into the decision and the Frenchman was known to be unhappy at his lack of opportunities.
We can be sure that as the midfielder left Italy for France’s Ligue 1 he entertained no thoughts of making the move from the San Siro a permanent one. Gourcuff was convinced he could be a success in Serie A, and Carlo Ancelotti seemed the only obstacle to that. If he took his chance to impress again in Ligue 1, and the Champions League Bordeaux were to be in, then surely Milan would realise their mistake, Ancelotti or not.
And impress is exactly what Gourcuff has been doing in Ligue 1 throughout this season. The youngster has had praise lavished on him by coach Laurent Blanc, a coach who appreciates his every effort. Gourcuff has displayed a deft touch, close control and ability to leave defenders trailing in mid-air that has had Ligue 1 coaches thinking not "How do we stop Bordeaux?" but "How do we stop Gourcuff?". Gourcuff also lists a superb range of passing and radar like ability to pick out team-mates amongst his finest attributes.
More playing time in Ligue 1 has only increased the comparisons with countryman Zidane. Coach Laurent Blanc can well understand them, stating recently "Gourcuff and Zidane have a similar way of running with the ball, and both have excellent close control, often using the sole of the foot." Clearly there are many players who have had the tag of "the next [insert name of legendary player]" thrust upon them at an early age only to buckle under the pressure. There have been players to emerge from France with the label of the "next Zidane" and as far as labels go it’s hard to get much bigger. Whilst Blanc would like to protect Gourcuff from comparisons he seems to accept that they are inevitable. "I hope Yoann will develop his own identity but it’s impossible to stop the comparison."
As long as the man still owned by Milan keeps on producing there is every chance the Italians will want him when his year-long loan comes to an end. Carlo Ancelotti, along with every other Milan fan, got to hear of Gourcuff’s wonder goal against Paris Saint-German recently. The youngster controlled the ball in an instant, moved it comfortably between either foot, drifting away from two PSG defenders in the process, then powered forward unleashing a shot from the outside of his right boot before a third could close him down. The ball slammed into the top right hand corner of the PSG goal. Gourcuff’s class had been underlined as Bordeaux thrashed PSG 4-0.
Whilst Laurent Blanc felt Gourcuff would have an impact for the south west club this season, it’s hard to believe even he hasn’t been taken aback by the progress the young midfielder has made. With the majority of Milan fans desperate for Gourcuff to return at the end of the season and Bordeaux keen to keep him the Frenchman will have a very important decision to make soon. The Milan management may come to regret putting an option to buy (estimated at between €12M and €15M) into the loan agreement should they lose such a talent. Carlo Ancelotti needs to do more to make Gourcuff feel valued and still part of Milan, and, according to the player himself, isn’t. "I have not heard anything from Ancelotti, I will not think of my future until April or May."
With Bordeaux sitting second in Ligue 1 at the time of writing it is hard to underestimate the extent to which Gourcuff has been integral to their rise. The very presence of the youngster on the pitch and the confidence this imbues in his team-mates belies his tender years. If Laurent Blanc’s side really are to overhaul Lyon this year (as many believe they can) then Yoann Gourcuff will have more right to a Ligue 1 winners’ medal than most. It could also be that the Ligue 1 championship trophy is the very thing that persuades him to swap Milan for Bordeaux as the place to call home.