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Aug 05, 2022   |  4:07PM AET

Okon: What AC Milan fans can expect from ‘scary’ De Ketelaere

Okon: What AC Milan fans can expect from ‘scary’ De Ketelaere

Serie A champions AC Milan splashed the cash to bring in Belgian sensation Charles De Ketelaere. Club Brugge assistant and former A-Leagues head coach Paul Okon provides an insight for Rossoneri fans.

“The scary thing is he hasn’t reached his full potential,” said Paul Okon.

After weeks of negotiations, AC Milan finally have their man.

The Serie A holders had to part with €35million to prise Charles De Ketelaere from Belgian champions Club Brugge to Milan.

There was fierce interest from Premier League outfit Leeds United, but Paolo Maldini’s persistence paid off in the race for the gifted attacker, born and bred in Bruges.

So, what can Rossoneri fans expect from the 21-year-old sensation?

Brugge assistant and Australian Football Hall of Famer Okon worked with De Ketelaere heading into the 2022-23 campaign, though the club great had been monitoring his progress for many years prior.

“Actually seeing him on the training field, just re-confirmed everything I thought of him as a football player,” Okon, who won six trophies during his time as a player at Brugge in the 1990s, told KEEPUP.

“I think he is just naturally gifted and when I look at him when he plays, that’s just the obvious thing. He just does everything so easy. His movement, balance, vision.

“He can be in a tight area and he has this sense that he can turn, and he can turn the right way. Most of the time he is able to make the right decision. He doesn’t lose the ball.”

An extremely talented tennis player before opting for football, De Ketelaere leaves the Belgian giants with three league titles, a Super Cup and last season’s Young Professional Footballer of the Year honour.

“He has a quality that I’m not sure is coachable,” said former Central Coast Mariners head coach Okon. “It’s innate. Very, very natural to him and something that sets him apart from the rest of them.

“He is a real athlete. He has always been quite tall. He was skinny as a young kid and had some issues with that. He grew a little bit too fast from the age of 15 to 17. They were actually trying to use him as a central defender. They didn’t really think he had it to be an attacker.

“He actually struggled a bit. He wasn’t playing and was thinking if he made the right decision to drop tennis. But once he grew into his body and filled out, his progress was so quick. His capabilities and attributes were finally able to come through because he could bring it to life because he made those steps physically.”

The versatile De Ketelaere led Brugge for most goals (14), most total shots (79), most shots on target (32) and most chances created (71) in their triumphant 2021-22 Pro League campaign.

“He is a player very difficult to replace for us,” Okon added. “Not an out-and-out goalscorer but someone who will score you goals.

“He was sort of able to do everything, score some goals and make assists. He can play in a number of positions, which is always good from a coaching perspective.

He is still 21. There is a lot more that will come out of him. That’s the reason why a club like AC Milan has made such an investment because they see that as well.

For Brugge, De Ketelaere is a special case.

Not only did he live 500 metres from Brugge’s Jan Breydel Stadium, but he progressed all the way from the Under-8 team to the senior side in 2019.

And De Ketelaere leaves a notable void.

“He is what you would say, a real youth product. Many other ones that were here, didn’t start here at such a young age. They came later on,” said ex-Socceroos captain Okon.

I’m not sure there will be another one [like him] in the short term or the next 10 years that starts at the U8s and goes all the way through.

“It’s certainly a club that wants to have more of these players they develop and sell them for those big transfers.”

De Ketelaere became Brugge’s second-youngest Belgian scorer in the Champions League in 2020.

Aged 19 years and 224 days in the clash against Zenit, he fell just shy of the record held by Anthony Vanden Borre (19y and 43d in 2006).

De Ketelaere can occupy a number of roles for Milan boss Stefano Pioli as Okon highlighted.

“He isn’t a deep striker because he likes to drop between the lines,” former Lazio, Fiorentina, Middlesbrough, Leeds midfielder Okon.

“That’s where he is very good at turning and picking up the ball, knowing where he is on the field. Within half a second, he is gone. He already knows what he’s going to do.

“As a second striker or number 10 [he can play]. But he can play as a left full-back, wide wing-back. He can play as a lone striker.

I was amazed at seeing everything he has in his locker.

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