Milan may be ready to make a surprise move when the transfer window opens this summer.
The Rossoneri are ready to offer 4 million euros for Orlando City midfielder Cristian Higuita, according to reports. Higuita, a 22-year-old midfielder from Colombia, has become an integral part of Adrian Heath's squad in Major League Soccer, playing alongside former Milan midfielders Kaka and Antonio Nocerino. He joined the club ahead of their inaugural MLS season in 2015 from Deportivo Cali and has been a mainstay in the lineup.
To get a better idea of who Higuita is and what he can provide to Milan, we spoke to our friends at SB Nation's fantastic Orlando City blog, The Mane Land. For those interested in the club Kaka and Nocerino call home now, they have lots of access and outstanding coverage.
Many thanks to Gavin Ewbank, who provided us with phenomenal insight into Higuita in this Q&A.
Devil Wears Rossonero: What makes Higuita an important part of the City lineup? What are his greatest strengths as a player?
Gavin Ewbank: Cristian is a workhorse on the field and a key to success for Orlando City. He does so many things well -- he's a good passer, even better tackler, great at winning possession -- that it's never easy to not notice him in games; there's a clear difference in play, especially throughout the midfield, when Higuita is in the lineup vs. when Orlando is forced to play without him.
DWR: How about weaknesses? That red card against New York Red Bulls seemed like a lapse in judgment after being dispossessed. Was that a one-time thing with him?
Gavin: His biggest weakness might be his discipline. While's a great defender, he can get a bit too physical with attackers far too often, which of course gets him in trouble more often than not. He had already racked up three yellow cards through his first five games this season before picking up a straight red in Orlando City's most previous game. And the problem was just the same in 2015, so it's something that he definitely needs to work on moving forward.
DWR: Midfield has been a glaring issue for Milan in recent years. What can Higuita provide to help strengthen that area?
Gavin: He can easily strengthen a couple different areas. Like I said, he's a guy that can control the midfield and keep dangerous attacking players at bay, as he's done against some of the best in MLS for the past year and a half (I don't know how much that actually means to Serie A fans, though). He also has one of the best passing percentages on Orlando City, in addition to being able to draw a handful of fouls each game.
DWR: How versatile is Higuita as a midfielder? We've seen a lot of him in a holding role in Orlando, but is he the kind of guy who can be used in different ways?
Gavin: Well, like you mentioned we haven't really seen him do much outside of the holding midfielder's role. Higuita has primarily been paired with Darwin Ceren in the defensive midfield in Orlando, and Ceren fancies himself as a deep midfielder that goes forward a lot, and Higuita's playing style is more laying back and setting up the counter-attack with tackles and turnovers in the midfield. We did see on a couple of occasions last season, however, where Higuita would play outside in a 4-3-3, but his best position is in the middle of the field.
DWR: Two appearances total for Colombia at the youth levels, but Higuita is on the provisional roster for Copa America, along with the likes of James Rodriguez, Juan Cuadrado, Luis Muriel and Milan's Cristian Zapata and Carlos Bacca. Whether he makes the 23-man squad or not, what do you think Jose Pekerman sees in him?
Gavin: I think he sees a lot of things in an extremely talented, young, explosive defensive midfielder that can impact games and shut down opponents. While I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't make the final Copa America roster for Colombia, I also wouldn't be surprised if he did make it.
DWR: Italian tactics can be difficult to adjust to for a foreign player. Do you think he has the capability to adapt?
Gavin: Absolutely, good players know how to adjust in certain situations, and Higuita is a good player that's fit in well against his MLS opponents since coming over.
DWR: Orlando City have partnerships in place with Stoke City and Benfica and seem set on expanding their global relationships. With guys like Kakà and Antonio Nocerino now in Orlando and the possibility of an Higuita move, could a partnership with Milan be on the horizon?
Gavin: I don't know about a full partnership, but I think it's safe to say relations between the two clubs are in good shape right now. At the very least, I wouldn't be surprised to see Milan come stateside one of these summers for a friendly in Orlando. That would be good for some storylines, of course.
DWR: How willing would Orlando be to part ways with a player like Higuita? Does a price tag of $4.5 million surprise you?
Gavin: A lot of people don't know this, but before he signed with Orlando City late in 2014, Higuita was actually being chased by a handful of big European clubs -- including AC Milan -- but he got hurt (knee injury, I believe), which obviously scared off some of those clubs and lowered his value. Orlando saw that as an opportunity to not only grab a good player cheap, but a grab a good player for cheap that they could potentially profit on down the road. There was also expectations that he would be sold well before his contract in MLS runs out. I can't speak for the club, but $4.5 million would be a solid profit for the club, and around what I'd expect him to go for.