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Milik and Marseille could be right match at the right time

January 28, 2021 GMT
Italy's Marco Verratti, left, and Italy's Manuel Locatelli, center, cheer Poland's Arkadiusz Milik end of the UEFA Nations League soccer match between Poland and Italy at Energa stadium in Gdansk, Poland, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
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Italy's Marco Verratti, left, and Italy's Manuel Locatelli, center, cheer Poland's Arkadiusz Milik end of the UEFA Nations League soccer match between Poland and Italy at Energa stadium in Gdansk, Poland, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
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Italy's Marco Verratti, left, and Italy's Manuel Locatelli, center, cheer Poland's Arkadiusz Milik end of the UEFA Nations League soccer match between Poland and Italy at Energa stadium in Gdansk, Poland, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

PARIS (AP) — After months without playing, Arkadiusz Milik is raring to go. After weeks of poor results, Marseille is desperate to turn fortunes around.

So their paths could be crossing at just the right time.

“The people really want me, especially the coach, the sporting director. They pushed for the transfer,” said Milik, who joined Marseille from Napoli this month. “I came here to show myself and I hope I’m going to do it.”

Marseille fans will certainly hope so, too.

A run of four straight defeats and three goals scored in the past five games have derailed what had looked like a run for the title. Marseille has dropped down to sixth place.

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After a substitute appearance last weekend, Milik could make his full debut at home against fifth-place Rennes on Saturday. Both are chasing a Champions League spot next season, a valuable cash injection amid the financial decimation sustained by French clubs because of the coronavirus and a collapsed TV deal.

After a bright start, including victory at defending champion Paris Saint-Germain, Marseille’s form has nosedived amid ongoing tensions between playmaker Dimitri Payet and winger Florian Thauvin. They reportedly had a heated argument following the 2-1 home loss to Nimes two weeks ago.

The intensity of Marseille’s fans can be uplifting in the good times, but also intimidating when things are going wrong. Milik experienced similar pressure with the passionate Tifosi at Napoli, so it gives the 26-year-old forward an idea of what lies in store.

“The last results are not the best,” Milik said. “Of course in this kind of city like Marseille the expectation is very high. People expect always expect you to win, and I know that.”

Marseille is the only French club to have won the Champions League, in 1993.

“The club has a huge history, amazing stadium,” Milik said. “I have played already a couple of times in this stadium, at Euro 2016 and also a friendly game against Marseille with Napoli.”

A lot rests on Milik’s imposing shoulders, given that striker Dario Benedetto has mustered only four goals in 24 games this season.

But fans should perhaps not expect too much, too soon, given Milik did not play at all for Napoli this season. His only games were for Poland, linking up with prolific Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, and his last goal came in October against Finland.

Although strong with his back to goal and good in the air — as befits his imposing stature — Milik is also a considerably skilled and versatile striker with quick feet in the penalty box.

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He made a bright start for Napoli after joining from Ajax for 35 million euros ($42.3 million) five years ago, netting twice on a his debut against AC Milan and grabbing two more braces in his first nine games.

Then came serious injuries.

He twice ruptured his cruciate knee ligament within the space of a year — first in his left knee, then his right. A stop-start Napoli career saw him net 48 goals in four seasons with a best return of 20 two seasons ago under coach Carlo Ancelotti.

His winning penalty in the Italian Cup final shootout against Juventus last June actually proved to be Milik’s parting gift to the fans, because after refusing to sign a long-term deal he was frozen out.

For the Marseille move to go through, Milik penned a new one-year deal with Napoli — which then loaned him to Marseille with an option to buy for 8 million euros ($9.7 million) plus 5 million ($6 million) in bonuses and a profit on any future sale.

Milik is looking forward to hearing Marseille’s notoriously passionate supporters at the 67,400-capacity Stade Velodrome — when they eventually return.

“The fans (are) the real strength of this team because with this full stadium the team can go amazing things,” Milik said. “Without them it’s very hard, but I can promise I’m going to leave my heart on the pitch.”

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