Person of Interest: Napoli’s Arkadiusz Milik

Napoli’s Arkadiusz Milik, pictured above. (Efrem Lukatsky/AP)

When Real Madrid face Napoli in the first leg of their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 matchup on Wednesday, they could have their hands full thanks to the dangerous presence of striker Arkadiusz Milik.

Milik suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury in his left knee in early October while away on international duty with Poland. But he was on the bench for the first time this weekend in Napoli’s 2-0 win over Genoa in Serie A, and he could see action against los blancos at the Bernabeu.

He is, assuming his form is good, Napoli’s deadliest weapon, and prior to his injury, he’d been off to a brilliant start, scoring seven goals in nine matches across all competitions. The Partenopei fared surprisingly well on the attack considering his absence—which means his presence should only make Napoli even stronger.

Here’s everything you need to know about the Polish star.

An Ajax kid

Occasionally referred to as “The next Robert Lewandowski,” Milik got his start with the Rozwoj Katowice youth team. As a 17-year-old he signed a one-year deal with Gornik Zabrze before joining Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga. He suited up for both FC Ausburg and Dutch outfit AFC Ajax on loan, and in 2015 he was purchased by Ajax. During his tenure with the club, he was one of the Eredivisie’s most prolific scorers, tallying 47 goals across two seasons.

“Arek,” as the 22-year-old is known, was transferred to Napoli in August of 2016. He was brought in to replace Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain, whom Napoli sold to Juventus last summer.

While Milik’s ACL injury was a blow to the team, it turned out to be less dire than originally expected. First reported as a possible tear, the injury was later described as a “rupture.” With Milik out of action, manager Maurizio Sarri successfully deployed Dries Mertens as a false nine; the Belgian has managed 16 goals this season. The hope now is for Milik to contribute his attacking prowess to prevent Real Madrid from a historic repeat of last year’s Champions League victory.


International career

Milik, who currently has 33 caps for Poland’s senior team, put up impressive performances during the Euro 2016 qualifiers, scoring six goals and tallying seven assists over the course of nine appearances.

While Poland earned its best-ever finish at the Euro 2016 tournament, Milik took some criticism for missing too many good opportunities. He admitted that he perhaps “didn’t have that cold blood in front of the goal” that he ought to have had.

The Tychy native did manage to score in Poland’s first match of the tournament, a 1–0 victory over Northern Ireland. He also scored during the penalty shootout in Poland’s heartbreaking quarterfinal loss to Portugal, the eventual Euro champion.

What makes him dangerous

Milik, who wears No. 99 and happens to be the second-most expensive player in Napoli history, is equally skilled at both scoring and setting up his teammates, and he is well-suited to his (still relatively new-to-him) team’s aggressive attacking style—manager Maurizio Sarri allows his players a great deal of freedom on the pitch. The left-footed striker, who is on contract until 2021, is a skilled finisher with good composure in the box. He can be inconsistent at times, though his age is a likely factor in his sometimes uneven performances.

Childhood hero

Milik grew up idolizing Cristiano Ronaldo, so it’s fitting that he’d make his return from injury in time to face off against the Real Madrid superstar, just as he did last summer.

“He’s an example of hard work,” Milik said of Ronaldo ahead of Poland’s quarterfinal meeting with Portugal at the 2016 Euro tournament. “It’s not just talent. You need to work hard. He’s a great example of that.”


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