When Samu Castillejo arrived at AC Milan from Villarreal in the summer of 2018, it hardly got any attention. Carlos Bacca was moving in the other direction and Castillejo a mere ploy to move the Colombian on.
The then 22-year-old had joined at the back of a decent season with the Yellow Submarines. In his last campaign at the club, he appeared 30 times in La Liga and racked up a tally of six goals and seven assists.
He has played across the front three, often deployed as the centre-forward. The move to Milan was seen as a step-up, even though the Rossoneri finished sixth in the Serie A that season. Villarreal had finished fifth in the La Liga themselves in the 2017-18 campaign.
His time at Milan started off well. On his first start for the Rossoneri, Castillejo scored his first goal in a 4-1 rout of Sassuolo. Castillejo got his second goal against SPAL towards the end of the year, helping his side pick up all three points from a stiff game.
He sparkled in a 3-0 win over Empoli, assisting and scoring one time each. He then scored in a 1-1 draw against Parma, helping the side pick up a point from the tough away game. It was an average start, despite how he had won the side some crucial points.
Castillejo faded in and out of games. He was inconsistent and failing more often than not.
This season, he is yet to score or assist. He has played in four Serie A games, attracting criticism with just about all of them.
Against Brescia at home, Castillejo did impress. The Spaniard completed two dribbles, winning three aerial duels. He also put in a shift while tracking back, winning four tackles in the game (via Whoscored).
Since then, it hasn’t been smooth sailing for him. He struggled to impose himself against SPAL, playing only 11 accurate passes in the game. The man who came on for him – Suso, scored the match-winning free-kick minutes after coming on.
While the criticism that comes Castillejo’s way is warranted, no one has escaped from it. The club sacked a new managed in just four months, even when the players were taking time to understand his complex system. This knee-jerk reaction has seen Marco Giampaolo’s long-term plan go out of the window in just a matter of weeks.
New manager in Stefano Pioli is trying to impose his authority and blueprint – something Giampaolo could not do. And he isn’t doing promising work either. The club’s situation suggests a lack of plan from the people who run the club.
An article by Rob Bagchi for the Telegraph encapsulates everything:
“Carlos Bacca, for example, was bought for €30m and swapped after two years for a player valued at half as much while the Italy midfielder Andrea Bertolacci cost €20m yet was allowed to leave on a free at the age of 28 after 44 games over three seasons. Add in the multiple flops in the seven- and lower eight-figure bracket from Luiz Adriano to Alessandro Matri to Jose Sosa and it screams of a club with a random approach, hoovering up promising players in their price range rather than adopting a systemic approach to team-building.”
When Castillejo was signed, he was hardly signed on the basis of merit. He was signed because Milan wanted an attacking player because of Bacca’s departure. It isn’t the player’s fault rather the lack of planning that cost Milan.
He was never a prolific contributor in terms of goals and assists. The 2017-18 season was his most productive season in his career. A sign of how he was never a special talent but Milan still took a big gamble on him. That isn’t the player’s fault either.
So it is time to stop expecting much from Castillejo. He isn’t someone who can win Milan every game. Just as he did last season, he will come up with moments of sheer brilliance that can turn a result for Milan. However, he will never do that on a consistent basis.
He shouldn’t take the blame for that, the club’s management should. If there was ever a plan, Castillejo would still be in Spain.