It has been a strange few months for Rade Krunic, who has slid from having a position as a starting player in Stefano Pioli’s side to now being seemingly destined for the exit.
There was some doubt about Krunic’s position in the squad at the end of last season given that the decision was made to shift to a 4-3-3 formation. While the Bosnian had played as a mezzala, a playmaker, a winger and even as a false nine, Pioli had something different in mind.
Fenerbahce came knocking and tried to use compatriot Edin Dzeko to launch a charm offensive in order to sign Krunic, but the head coach reportedly vetoed the exit while the Turkish side never offered a satisfactory sum to make the management reconsider.
The Milan boss decided to put the former Empoli man quite literally at the centre of his plans, given that he made him the starting defensive midfielder leaving him with the double task of breaking up play in the non-possession phase and helping build-up when on the ball.
It was a tall order for a player who had previously had a bit-part role as a ‘jack of all trades’ type figure, and after an injury sustained against Hellas Verona it was time for Yacine Adli to be tried in a deeper role, and his rollercoaster deserves a separate analysis.
Krunic’s situation worsened, starting with the fact that he was not even sent out to warm up on Saturday during the win over Frosinone and remained on the bench for the entire match.
The Bosnian, since the international break, played for six minutes against Fiorentina in the league and 37 minutes against Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League. Simply put, he seems to have lost his centrality in the project that he had at the beginning of the season.
Krunic, who joined Milan in 2019 from Empoli for €8m, had been one of Pioli’s loyalists. Last season, he made 25 appearances in all competitions scoring three goals, but only nine of those starts came in the league.
The fact is that even his better outings as a defensive midfielder were nothing to write home about, but he was capable of disastrous performances such as the one in the Champions League in Paris against PSG.
This lack of consistency that has also slowly destabilised Pioli’s hierarchies and in the last few games he has even preferred Tijjani Reijnders over Krunic, or even Adli as mentioned who seemed destined to leave in the summer.
Calls from Turkey
It is precisely for this reason that the ears of Fenerbahce have pricked up again. They had reached an agreement with the player over a contract worth €3.5m net per season and are expected to come back in for the 31-year-old, which gives Milan a second chance.
The latest indications suggest that the Istanbul-based club would have to pay around €10m to sign Krunic in January, but they will of course aim to take advantage of the fact that his contract will expire in the summer of 2025.
At the moment his role at Milan is clearly under discussion especially after Pioli’s recent decisions to exclude him from the starting line-up, while another factor is that renewal talks are proving difficult because of the high demands from the player’s side.
Rade Krunic’s 2022-23 Serie A numbers compared to Nicolas Dominguez and Marko Grujic (the two main targets).
The data in order: average rating out of 10, games played, goals, assists, key passes per 90, passes completed per 90 and balls recovered per 90.
— MilanData📊 (@acmilandata) August 13, 2023
It was reported right at the end of the summer window that Lyon had also scouted Krunic and even presented an offer worth €12-13m, yet that was rejected partly because it fell below the amount Milan wanted but mostly because of the lack of time to replace him.
However, the considerations on Krunic in the upper levels of Casa Milan now seem to have changed radically and January could see his four-and-a-half year spell at the club end.
Looking back, Giorgio Furlani and co. might just wish they could change how things went in August. The midfield could lose Ismael Bennacer (again) as the Algerian returned from his injury but is expected to be called up by Algeria for the African Cup of Nations which start on January 13th.
This is a factor that must be in Pioli’s mind given he would thus find himself with a real void in the control room, if Krunic were also to be sold. Precisely in this sense, the sale of Krunic for €10m will force Milan to reinvest what they earned for the purchase of another midfielder.
There is talk of Assan Ouédraogo of Schalke who has a €12m release clause, yet he is believed to prefer the idea of staying in Germany until the summer so another target might be needed. The search for a replacement could end up leaving other sensitive areas uncovered too; gaps in the squad that were not filled in the summer.
January, being in the middle of the season, is not an excellent time to do business and for this very reason the failure to sell Krunic in the summer represents something Milan might just be reflecting on. Of course timing and offers received are the main factor, but now this could become a real headache.