Ciao, Nesta

Some wounds never heal, and something tells me that this will be one of them. The departure of Alessandro Nesta from AC Milan has left a gaping hole, not only in our hearts, but on the pitch.

So much more than just a pretty face, his style of play was elegant and seemingly effortless at times, but with the precision and accuracy few center backs ever reach. Not only could he stop attackers with breathtaking style, he was dependable and consistent, too. It seemed as if every tackle was a work of art, and fans were witness to both the clinical and the sublime time and time again.

How he happened upon Milan was our luck and Lazio’s misfortune. Born and raised in Roma to a Lazio family, he rose up through the Lazio youth ranks and debuted for the club at the age of 17.  While he first came to be noticed for a training ground incident that left Paul Gascoigne with a broken leg, he also became Lazio’s captain just four years later. But not even his loyalty to the club or his captaincy could prevent him from being sold along with a number of Lazio’s other great players when the club ran into financial difficulties in 2002. And so, the man that should have been Lazio’s Maldini came to the club he won his first Lazio trophy against, AC Milan.

The rest is sweet history for the Rossoneri faithful. He was as loyal to Milan as he had been to Lazio, and his career continued to flourish as he helped win trophy after trophy for the club. We could not have been more fortunate if we had tried.

He was always quiet, always classy, never one to complain, always working hard and quietly showing by example what it meant to play for Milan. His Achilles’ heel would prove to be his health, though, as injuries plagued his career. This was especially true of his time with the National Team, although he actually met his wife due to an injury in 1998, as she was the one who tended to him, so in addition to a World Cup medal, he was blessed with a beautiful family as well.

But it was a series of serious back injuries in 2008 that nearly ended his career and kept him from playing the 2008-09 season. After much contemplation, he did sign a contract extension until 2011. And despite nearly retiring last year, he gave us one last beautiful season to round off his Milan career at a perfect 10 years.

He long withheld taking the captain’s armband at Milan out of respect to his captaincy at Lazio, but finally wore it a few times this year. In the end, he played one more year for Milan’s first team than Lazio, anyway. Reports of a rift between him and Allegri this season have fueled rumors that he felt pushed out or chose to leave because of a poor relationship with the coach.

But far more likely are the words he has been saying since 2008, that it was his body and its limitations that kept him from being competitive at the highest level. And, like the very best athletes always do, he stepped out while he was still on top of his game.

Some claim he said that he said Messi was too fast for him, but he was very quick to point out during his farewells from Milan that he never said that. And if you watch him play against the tiny Barca phenom, you will know that this is true. In fact, many touted Nesta as the only defender currently playing who could systematically stop Messi. And Messi never scored on Milan on the run of play, either. Like so many other great players who tried, Nesta’s incredible skills on the pitch simply said, “Not on my watch.”

Thiago Silva will not forget Nesta any time too soon, either. He has consistently praised Nesta for the leadership and training he has passed on as they were partnered together this past few years. And while Silva is obviously a talent in his own right, playing alongside the man who many consider one of the best center backs of the last 25 years has only made Silva even better.

And that is how Nesta has been for Milan –he has always made everyone around him that much better. While you could fill a room with the trophies he has won through his domestic and International careers, both individually and as a team, Nesta is one of those players that only comes along every once in a while, whose individual brilliance is only superceded by what he brings to the team.

And so Milan have a black hole of a spot to fill. No one can fill his shoes in terms of abilities or quiet leadership in the back. Where for 10 years, we have always felt confident that nothing would get past the beautiful Roman rock in our defense, now we pass that expectation on to Silva, who will have his hands full covering for the likes of Bonera. Sorry, I didn’t mean to frighten you, but it is only through nightmares like this that we can fully understand what it is that Nesta has given us this whole time. Also, should Aquilani stay, there is no one else left who can translate his indecipherable Roman accent.

Saying goodbye to so many Milan legends all at once has forced a worldwide shortage of Kleenex, but Nesta was the one who seemed most likely to be able to continue playing at a decent level. And he may continue to play, but in a less demanding league. As he has stated time and time again, his body’s physical limitations prevent him from playing on three fronts anymore at the highest level. While female fans everywhere are in mourning for what his departure takes from the beautiful part of the beautiful game, all fans will miss the beauty he brought to the pitch in terms of skills. It is hard to say goodbye to such a Milan legend, but for going out on top and giving us ten amazing years, we can only say Grazie, Sandro.

This post inspired by Nesta’s most faithful fan, @eugnachs

Ciao, Nesta Ciao, Nesta Reviewed by Elaine on 3:58 AM Rating: 5
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