Fan article by Richard Gyasi (@gyasirichard3).
The purchase of Leonardo Bonucci and the decision to hand him the captain’s armband uncorked unkind sentiments from some Rossoneri fans about the then captain Ricardo Montolivo. Derided by many, Montolivo reacted positively to the news without expressing indignation towards the new board or his new leader.
There is no doubt that in Bonucci Milan had secured a leader, a winner and a warrior with a competitive spirit. Six Scudetti on the bounce, two Champions League final appearances and being a stalwart in the heart of Italy’s defense had made the former Juventus center back the most sought-after defender in the world. Bonucci’s belated appearance on the FIFPro XI podium in 2017 demonstrates his quality as one of the revered defenders in the world at the moment.
But there is actually a common thread in how both Montolivo and Bonucci became captains of the club. Just like the latter, the former was charged with the honorary responsibility by former Milan CEO Adriano Galliani despite the presence of old faces such as Abate and Abbiati, who was deemed the rightful new captain. Montolivo had, however, shown his leadership qualities at Fiorentina, a club he captained to reach the Round of 16 in the 2009 Champion League.
No one could doubt Montolivo’s technical ability on the ball and his inclusion in Italy’s squad for the 2009 FIFA Confederation Cup at the age of 24 was a validation of his mature talent. Montolivo continued to shine on the international stage as he became an important cog in the Cesare Prandelli Italian side. He was a busy presence alongside the majestic Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi in midfield at Euro 2012 and his long ball over the German defense for Balotelli’s second goal in the semi-final was an example of what Montolivo is capable of.
But Milan fans rarely enjoyed that kind of performance from the newly installed captain. The fans were really expectant of Montolivo to emulate the true regista, Pirlo, when he started operating as the deep lying playmaker. There were the occasional displays to excite fans, but Montolivo was never going to be Pirlo. His reign as Milan captain had coincided with one of the harshest periods in the club’s recent history. Signings such as Taye Taiwo, Bakaye Traoré, Philippe Mexès, Nigel De Jong and a spent Michael Essien to name a few, meant Milan was on a downward trend.
Injuries have played a part in Montolivo’s struggles. His ball playing skills and range of passes were badly affected by the numerous injuries he suffered over the years. But Milan fans never forgave him for every single mistake on the field. The decision by the former administration to extend Montolivo’s stay for three more years incensed a lot of fans and prompted all sorts of vile comments against him. The distaste of some fans for Montolivo was expressed in various articles in which the authors discussed why they hate Montolivo, writing that the midfielder’s leadership skills make them want to take their own life.
But Montolivo is a leader, he will continue to be a leader and a committed member of the team. In Milan’s current poor form, Montolivo has provided moments of sublime control and serenity in midfield this season. He scored the consolation goal for the Rossoneri during their embarrassing 4-1 defeat to Lazio in Rome and produced an assured performance against Sassuolo in Milan’s away win before the last international break.
Montolivo’s performance against Napoli last Saturday caught the attention as the former captain received positive ratings from football writers and pundits. He was calm under pressure, showed authority and demand for the ball; his ability to switch the play with long range passes were once again on display and it’s probably because this time he had better players around him. Montolivo’s performance for the national team alongside Pirlo, De Rossi and Marchisio proved that he is a healthier performer when amongst greater talents.
In reality, Montolivo could not emulate Pirlo because there were no Gattuso and Ambrosini to hunt down opposition attackers for him to maximize his strength. Milan fans could not love Montolivo because he had to sacrifice his ball playing skills to play alongside the likes of De Jong, Essien, Muntari and Poli. But he always shone when he had the best around him and Milan are beginning to see that now.