Riccardo Montolivo and his captaincy have been symbolic of Milan’s decline in the last few seasons. But this summer has brought fresh optimism to the San Siro, and suddenly, the captain finds himself lower down the pecking order. What’s next for Riccardo Montolivo?
For the past few seasons, Milan fans around the world have learnt to settle for average things and a third place finish seemed like a trophy and a dream to them. A club with Milan’s stature should be competing in all competitions. A club with a rich history should be locking horns with the giants and not flirting with the relegation zone, but due to financial restraints, Milan has fallen off the ladder and are now playing catch up.
But things are changing at Milan, the breeze of positivity is blowing over the red and black side of the city. The fans are brimming with excitement on the cusp of a new Serie A season. A sudden influx of money and enthusiasm from the president and a purchase of a 48% stakein the club by the Thai billionaire businessman Bee Taechaubol has brought the enthusiasm back amongst the fans.
With new recruits, the current squad has to step up their game in order to win their place in the starting eleven. These players are not just hand outs or loanees, these are expensive buys. With a new coach at the helm, the old crop of players have to prove themselves and no one will be under more scrutiny than the captain himself, Ricardo Montolivo.
A captain’s armband is much more than a cloth manacle wrapped around your biceps, it’s a mark of man who has been assigned to lead the team, to motivate the players when the chips are down and to set an example on and off the field and AC Milan have been lucky to have had great leaders amongst them in the recent past. Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini captained Milan for a whooping 27 years and then the armband was passed on to another loyal servant, Ambrosini. With these leaders as your predecessors, it’s difficult to follow up. Once Amrbosini retired, Montolivo was the most significant player or the only player with remote distinction and face value in the squad and hence Montolivo was entrusted with the armband.
Montolivo hasn’t won a single major title as a player or as a captain in his career. He moved to Milan in May 2012 after a modestly successful career at Fiorentina. He was the captain for 2 seasons before he made his desire public of joining a team with a higher caliber and refused a contract extension. Fiorentina stripped him of the captainship as he verbally agreed to join Milan when his contract ran out.
Montolivo is not the aggressive one like Gattuso nor does he have the serenity of Maldini. You will not see Montolivo shouting orders to his teammates or defusing a tricky situation. He has never been the type who would pour water over fire. His personality has been timid but being a senior and a regular international cap holder, Milan handed over the armband to him hoping to restart another era of success and fame. But things didn’t go as planned, injuries and poor performances reduced Montolivo’s appearances and his popularity amongst the fans took a beating.
Not that he has played like a captain either, his performances in the Milan shirt, barring the first season have been nothing short of mediocre with flashes of brilliance. He was bought with the idea of infusing creativity in the midfield but that hasn’t been the case, his passes have been error-prone, his body language has been off and his vision has been indecisive. Being the captain, a senior member and the creative midfielder, it’s inexcusable. He gives away possession quite easily which leaves the defense short and helps the opposition to create scoring opportunities. Over the years he has caused problems in the locker room as well, according to certain reports, Montolivo publicly announced former manager and Milan legend Seedorf’s sacking as “good for Milan.”
The fans are running out of patience, people are asking for his head and they don’t want to see the armband thrown around to players who don’t even deserve to wear the jersey let alone captain the team. Last season players like Muntari, Abate wore the armband in the absence of Montolivo and De Jong which suggests the steep decline of the club.
This is the season where Montolivo has to show his mettle, stand up and take the responsibility of guiding this team out of the pit. He likes to play in front of the defense, but De Jong has made that position his own. Montolivo’s shortcomings have only added to De Jong’s workload. De Jong and Montolivo were supposed to be the lynchpins of the midfield but that hasn’t been the case.
Montolivo was visibly excited during the pre season friendlies and the positivity around the stadium with this sudden change of attitude was contagious but things weren’t meant to be easy for the captain as he suffered another injury scare against Spurs in a pre season friendly. Montolivo was accidently hit by a stray boot of Bentaleb while making a sliding tackle. He was reduced to tears and looked visibly distressed when the medics treated him on the substitute bench. His tears highlighted his helplessness as he knew that another long-term injury might push him further down the pecking order. His career seemed in danger but the injury wasn’t as serious and he was given the green signal to play against Perugia for their season opener.
Montolivo started on the bench against Perugia in their first official match and the Milan head coach Mihajlović reinstated that De Jong over Montolivo was a tactical decision made by him on the basis of form and fitness. Inconsistency and injuries have left Montolivo high and dry and the new coach needs him to step up his game and prove his worth.
With a sudden influx of money, the club is looking to turn their fortunes and compete with elite of world football and this might be Montolivo’s final chance to prove his credentials and try to win back the fans who once welcomed him with open arms.
A captain who cannot even cement his own position in the team is not a captain. He might lose his captain’s band to De Jong but he still has a chance to show the new manager the reason why Milan bought him in the first place.
Whether he will prove himself, or his inconsistency will prevail, only time will tell and as a Milanista, I can only be hopeful.
Written by Chintan Mehta
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