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19th Jun 2018

World Cup Profiles: Who is Arkadiusz Milik? Poland’s other striker

The man hoping to help Lewandowski score the goals in Russia

Simon Lloyd

Had the last couple of years panned out differently for Arkadiusz Milik, there’s every chance there’d be considerably more hype surrounding him going into the 2018 World Cup

After impressing for Poland in the European Championships in France in the summer of 2016, Napoli bought him from Ajax. At the time, Gonzalo Higuain had only just left Stadio San Paolo for Juventus and it was hoped – in time, at least – that Milik would replace the Argentine’s goals for the club. His record in Amsterdam suggested he had the potential to do precisely this.

Bundesliga club Bayer Leverkusen had signed Milik from Górnik Zabrze in his homeland in 2012. He’d failed to make an impact in Germany, both at Leverkusen and in a loan spell with Augsburg, and so was allowed to join Ajax – also on loan – in 2014. The move was made permanent a year later.

In just 76 games for the four-time European champions, he was involved in 65 of their goals, scoring 47, assisting 18. Only 22 at the time he left Ajax, his final season saw him score 21 times.

His time in Naples started well enough, marking his home debut against AC Milan with two goals. He added another brace on his Champions League bow for the club away to Dynamo Kiev, followed by two more in the following league game against Bologna. By the time he scored his seventh goal for Napoli – against Benfica in the Champions League – the £28.8m fee they had forked out for him was looking very much like money well spent.

Unfortunately, his promising start came to an end the next month. A knee ligament injury picked up during a World Cup qualifier against Denmark in October 2016 saw him sidelined for over four months. His only other goal that season came in a 2-2 draw away to Sassuolo, seven months after his last strike.

In the early weeks of the next season, Milik suffered a second serious knee injury during Napoli’s 3-2 win over SPAL. This time, he was sidelined for six months. Although some expressed doubts that he would be fully fit to play for his country in Russia, the four goals scored since his return in March appeared to help allay such fears. Adam Nawałka, who had signed him during his time as Górnik Zabrze manager, named Milik in his World Cup squad.

Although Robert Lewandowski is still the undisputed shining light of the Polish attack, Milik’s finishing abilities have seen some draw comparisons between the two strikers. Standing at over six foot, he offers genuine aerial threat, even though most of his goals have come courtesy of his left-foot.

Far from shy of taking on a shot from open play when an opportunity presents itself, Milik has also proven to be a danger from free-kicks, too. His tendency to take on players and ability to link up play with fellow attackers show there is more to his game than simply spearheading a team’s attack.

Although the serious injuries he’s suffered in the last two years will raise questions as to whether he can have a significant impact during this tournament, if Poland do go far in Russia it’s likely that he, and not just Lewandowski, will have something to do with it.