Monday, December 24, 2012

Counting Our Blessings

For many people around the world, today they are celebrating Christmas Eve, tomorrow Christmas Day. Whether or not you are celebrating, I like to take some time to count my blessings at this time of year. This includes my Milan blessings. This year has been filled with so much heartbreak and pain, but in thinking about it, I want to spend a little time remembering all of the good, even if I might have to look a little harder for it. So, inspired by Charles Dickens’ classic “A Christmas Carol,” here are some blessings I have been grateful for this year (and some I hope to see more of in the very near future.)

Tackling Santa

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Despite the varied nature of their departure, the 14 players we lost this summer left so many good memories in their wake. Gattuso may have been called the snarling dog, but he was very much the heart and passion that drove this team for so very long. In contrast, Cassano was only with us for a relatively short time, but he filled that time with laughter and a joy and passion that is now missed. Nesta may have been the last of the truly exquisite Italian defenders, and despite injuries always seemed to rescue us with class and style. Thiago Silva became one of the best defenders in the world at Milan, he was both elegant and dependable, the core of our defense.

God's gifts to defense

Van Bommel came in with a reputation that seemed unfitting for the red and black, and instantly and consistently proved himself quite the opposite. His massive contributions on and off the pitch in just a year and a half will not soon be forgotten. Maxi Lopez was much more than I could have hoped for on the pitch. He made his impact on me with his unique transfer saga, and the devotion he showed then carried through to the end. Another longsuffering player was Aquilani. Despite his playing time being limited by his contract clause, he gave us his all and was a beautiful addition to our midfield. Seedorf left on a bit of a sour note for me, but I cannot help but remember his brilliance and magic in years past. His combination of strength, elegance and precision will forever be in my memory.

God's gift to football

The lost ones I am perhaps most grateful for having seen in a Milan jersey are perhaps the most unlikely if you know me. First, Ibra. In two years he changed me from a doubter to a worshipping believer. I even loved his cattivo side, he endeared me so much. He is the most complete player in the world, even if he knows it. Watching him every week, whether it was scoring, holding, assisting, defending, or even slapping… for me I will always see him in red and black. But it is Pippo that I miss most. And I saw much too little of him this year, too. Even in his last match, he scored, that’s what he always did best. His passion, his devotion to the fans, his altruism off the pitch… what’s not to love? Inzaghi was the ultimate poacher, he even won me over, and I always swore I would never like a poacher.

For all of these players past, I can only say grazie. Thank you for the beautiful memories. Thank you for gracing the Milan jersey, no matter how short or how long. You have all left lasting, indelible impressions on my heart.

Simply the best

Ghosts of Christmas Present

In the transition and sadness of this summer, a few players have truly brought me joy. First and most obviously, El Shaarawy. As the current capo cannoniere of Serie A, this choice probably needs no explanation. But in addition to his sublime and consistently scored goals, there are the amazing crosses and assists, as well as defense that humbles the bulk of our actual defenders. But for me, the best part about him is that at only 20 years old, he’s got the world at his feet but his feet on the ground. To pair such amazing talent with such wisdom and class, he truly is a heavenly salve in the wake of so much loss.

He knows where he came from

Secondly would be De Sciglio. I don’t like comparing players, but if ever there were a young player to be channeling the level of talent with the natural leadership and class of Maldini, you might say it would be this young player. He is his own man, though, barely turned 20 and yet already a leader in the dressing room. He is fearless, stronger than he looks, and puts in amazing crosses on offense, too. Watching him absolutely nullify a talent like Asamoah when we played Juventus was simply amazing, something I won’t forget too soon. For me, he is not the “next Maldini,” but rather Milan’s premier fullback now, and hopefully long into the future, too.

Santa's little helper is more than meets the eye

The player that has truly surprised me the most is Constant. I had little to no expectations for him, counting him amongst the Budget Milan™ transfer mishaps. When he played a few games in the midfield, I saw some encouraging things on attack, but nothing that overly impressed. But when Allegri, out of desperation, put him in at left back, a star was born. Wow. Besides being surprisingly physical and quick on defense, often getting back to rescue some of our center backs, his passing and crosses have been remarkable. I am so pleased to see him in the red and black, a tremendous blessing in our time of need. And the best part about these present players is that they should also continue to bless us far into the future…

De Sciglio, Carmona, and Bojan - Milan's present and future

Ghosts of Christmas Future

Speaking of the future, another player we have not been able to see enough of yet is Niang. Sure, the comparisons to Balotelli on and off the pitch are a bit formidable, but the glimpses we have seen of this young player give me hope for years to come. Even Allegri recently complimented him, something he rarely does, especially with the young players. He seems to have pace, power, great vision, and a definite eye for goal.

Other players who have impressed from our Primavera squad include midfielders Cristante, Valoti, Carmona, and forwards Ganz and Petagna, with several of them having made appearances in the first team over the past year. Add to that some former Primavera players out on loan such as defenders Ely and Albertazzi as well as the striker Comi, and our future looks very bright indeed. And just a little further on the horizon we have players like Christian Maldini, just turned 16 and starting to be given more playing time by his coach, one Pippo Inzaghi. And perhaps the most talked about young player, Hachim Mastour, who at the age of 14 probably has more fans than some of our first team players due to his exceptional skills. With even Berlusconi and Galliani claiming that Milan’s future is in our youth, finally our future seems worth believing in again.

The future Mastour learning from Pippo of our past

For me personally, this year was blessed with my very first trip to see Milan play, which was also my very first trip to Italy at all. I was blessed to tour the San Siro and the museum there, which reminded me of all of the memories of so many Christmases past. Of course, I am also blessed with this blog, which allows me to interact with so many amazing Milan fans all over the world. Sharing Milan with all of you in good times and bad makes everything so much better.

So despite so much heartache and pain, this year has actually been filled with Rossoneri blessings. And at this wonderful time of the year, I realize it is truly an honor to be a Milan fan. Wherever you are in the world, I would like to send you warm greetings, and a very Merry Christmas to those who are celebrating. May all of us be blessed with many more memories and successes of our beloved team in the New Year!

Merry Christmas!

This post inspired by the music of the Vince Guaraldi Trio