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Riccardo Montolivo: Holy Man

It was prophesied that he would be a great footballer some day. When he was 7 years old, Milan attempted to sign him, but it was not time for the prophecy to be fulfilled. He was heavily courted by Milan last year, contributing to his falling out with Fiorentina fans and simultaneously labeled as “Mr. X” by Milan hopefuls. But again, it was not to be. When rumors leaked that his contract had been deposited and he would definitely be coming to Milan on a free transfer, for Milan fans it seemed like the Rapture was finally here. Twenty years of waiting, and the prophecy had finally arrived. Benvenuto, Riccardo.

The twenty year-old prophecy is about to come true


Montolivo means the Mount of Olives, which is a location of geographical and historical significance to three major religions. In the Christian religion, it was the location where Christ is believed to have prophesied about the end of the world, wept over the wickedness of Jerusalem, and also suffered in the Garden of Gethsemane, amongst other things. For the Jewish faith, it has been used as a sacred burial ground for centuries, including many important prophets, and is also a historical site of note for things both sacred and wicked. For the people of Islam, there are also a number of important historical sites for them located there, in addition to its geographical significance.

So what does this have to do with our new footballer? Maybe absolutely nothing. Or maybe, it is prophetic that he, like his namesake, has been the source of such intense suffering and also inspiration to not just one, but multiple groups of people. That, like his playing skills, he can make you see the Holy Land at times, and yet also be the source of some of the greatest suffering on the pitch. Personally, I’m hoping he left all of the suffering in Florence, and he is ready to be our team’s source of inspiration. Heaven knows we need that now more than ever.

Was it just seven years of bad luck? Or will he disappear here, too?

Our “poor man’s Pirlo” is a little more complicated than just a catch phrase or some far-fetched religious analogies, though. Born in Caravaggio in 1985 to an Italian father and a German mother, his parents opted to keep him close to home in Bergamo rather than send him off to Milan or relocate their whole family when Milan came calling. So he grew up in the ranks of the youth teams of Atalanta, and spent two years playing with the first team. The first was in Serie B, where he helped them earn promotion. The second year was in Serie A, but despite his best efforts, they were immediately relegated again.

In 2005, he moved to Fiorentina. As a young, relatively inexperienced player, he had to earn a place in Cesare Prandelli’s squad. But it wasn’t long before he earned his place as a starter. In fact, in 2010, at the age of only 25, he also earned the captain’s armband. His ability to play anywhere in the midfield is a plus, but his natural position is as a regista, or deep-lying playmaker. And while his talent was evident and he had moments of beauty and inspiration, during his seven years with the club, he would often disappear and disappoint, too.

After so much suffering, he was an inspiration at the Euros

This was also true of the national team. He was important to the U-21 side for the three years that he played with them, and also played for Italy in the Olympics in Beijing in 2008. He also has 37 caps for the Azzurri since 2007. He was the “vice-Pirlo” for Italy at the World Cup 2010 when Andrea Pirlo was injured, performances which varied from poor to encouraging, depending on who you ask. Over the past two years with the Azzurri, he also frequently disappointed, leaving fans to wonder if Prandelli was seeing the Viola over the player. But more recently, he was a revelation for the Azzurri at the Euros in Polkraine. (Just don’t ask him to take a penalty.) Perhaps it was because he finally achieved his destiny by signing for Milan?

As a person, he seems like a nice enough guy. Sure, a lot of Fiorentina fans still hate him for refusing a contract extension last year when he knew Milan were after him. Or especially for signing for a rival club. But by the end of the season, they couldn’t refute his efforts for them on the pitch. He did his best to honor his contract regardless of the hate, and that is commendable.

The Original Gangsta and his "doll," Cristina De Pin

I know Allegri asked for him for his skills, but I can’t help but think it is also because they have something in common: both are dating ex-Playmates. Okay, so maybe he’s not going to be canonized before he dies, I mean he is a footballer. But he’s also human, and he’s a saint compared to some of the misfits we’ve reformed so far.

How will he fit into Milan? It’s hard to know. Allegri initially said he would play him in front of the defense, but perhaps “inspired” by Ambrosini’s press statement saying that spot was his, Allegri mentioned he also may play him on the right of the diamond. Prandelli also once lined him up as a trequartista in one match, and while he is certainly not a traditional trequartista, he played really well further up. He’s a good passer, he’s got a great leg, and is technically overall pretty strong, but his main weakness seems to be consistency. He was surprisingly stronger and better defensively than I remembered when I saw him at the Euros, so if Allegri can work his magic and bring out more consistency in him, he could really be pivotal to the team.

He's willing to wear the Collar of Doom™, I'll be a believer

Which Mount of Olives will he be for Milan? The tragic and suffering? Or the divine and inspired? Or will he continue to do some of both? Because with our current mercato, we certainly need a miracle. And with the performances he gave with the Azzurri at the Euros, he almost made a believer out of me.

You can follow Montolivo on Twitter @OfficialMonto  


This post inspired by the music of The Church