Locked in a desperate fight just to get on the pitch at AC Milan, Marco van Ginkel sorely needed a boost to his confidence heading into the weekend.
The Chelsea-owned midfielder headed to San Siro over the summer hoping to get his career back on track after he was derailed by a devastating injury last season.
But the 22-year-old found himself on the outside looking in. Prior to Sunday, the Dutchman had played just 31 minutes of Serie A football – none since late September.
With Milan captain Riccardo Montolivo recovering from a long-term injury blow of his own, it seemed his task of breaking into Pippo Inzaghi’s side would only get tougher.
However, a ray of hope arrived during the middle of last week. Reports claimed van Ginkel would get his chance against Udinese at the weekend, Milan in need of his creativity.
It proved to be true. Van Ginkel took his place in midfield at the outset of the 2-0 victory over the Zebrette, giving a good account of himself in the process.
He led the Rossoneri starting line-up with a 95% pass completion rate, adding two key passes, three tackles and an interception in a well-rounded performance.
The display was certainly a pleasing one for Chelsea, who understandably would’ve been concerned for van Ginkel’s development due to his lack of action.
Milan too were impressed with his exploits, with vice-president Adriano Galliani going so far as to put van Ginkel on the same plane as long-term Manchester United target Kevin Strootman.
Galliani told Milan Channel: “I consider van Ginkel on the same level as [Roma midfielder Kevin] Strootman. He just needs continuity.”
It’s a strong statement from Galliani – one that simultaneously should swell van Ginkel with pride, but give him plenty to live up to.
Strootman quickly became the envy of Europe last season with his dominant displays for Roma, his signing in the summer of 2013 looking a masterstroke by the Giallorossi.
And despite an horrific knee injury in March that Strootman only just returned from, he remains a wanted man – reportedly coveted by Manchester United’s Louis van Gaal.
Van Ginkel has a lot to prove if he is to vindicate Galliani, though at last appears to be heading in the right direction at San Siro.
That can only be good news for both the 22-year-old and his parent club Chelsea, who would be happy to have him back in June should he prove as capable as Strootman.