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Massimo Ambrosini: Understated Captain


He is often overlooked amongst the names of the legendary Milan captains. Like legendary players and captains Herbert Kilpin, Gunnar Nordahl, Nils Liedholm, Cesare Maldini, Gianni Rivera, Franco Baresi, and Paolo Maldini, he has lifted a major trophy as captain for Milan. But will he be remembered as fondly as those other names? Has he done enough on and off the pitch to be deserving of a place in Milan history alongside these other legends? Is he just fortunate enough to be the one wearing the armband, or is he truly a captain amongst captains, if not a bit understated?

Humility is not exactly an attention-getting trait

I believe that there are different kinds of leaders. Many on the list of legendary Milan captains had a natural charisma and visible character traits that drew the armband to them like a magnet. Their leadership was innate and undeniable. But there are also leaders who earn the title of captain. Perhaps their leadership isn’t immediately apparent. But through years of hard work, devoted service, good character, longsuffering, and the earned respect of their peers, the armband is rightfully given them. I believe this is the case with Massimo Ambrosini.

Ambrosini came to Milan via Cesena, the club he spent his youth career and one year of senior team action with. Other than that and one year on loan to Vicenca in 1997-1998, he has spent the rest of his career to date in the red and black of AC Milan. This loyalty is only a part of what has defined him, though. The quiet father of two keeps to himself, and has earned enough respect in his life on and off the pitch that the media usually allow him his privacy, too. In our squad of "misfits," it is a huge blessing to have someone so stable and dependable.

A 19 year-old future captain

His career has been plagued with efforts to earn his spot in the starting lineup and juggling small, niggling injuries that often benched him when he was playing his best. His defensive style of play and tackling abilities have been a crucial asset to even the best of defenses as he consistently intercepts the ball. His strength and abilities in the air have been a mainstay during his 344 appearances with Milan, and something we often desperately miss when he is not on the pitch. Even his contributions on the pitch can seem a bit understated, until he is unavailable. Then he is sorely missed.

He deputized as captain for one of the greatest, Paolo Maldini. And perhaps his reputation will always take second place. Somewhere in the shadows of that greatness, he has quietly led by example, kind of like the supports of a great building which you don’t see, yet the building could not stand without. And since Maldini’s retirement in 2009, he has been the captain, lifting a Supercoppa and a Scudetto with that heavy armband on.

He's not controversial, just quietly dedicated and fiercely loyal

He doesn’t score often, with only 29 goals in those 344 appearances. But when he does, they are often decisive and never disappointing. The bigger the game, the more he steps up, and he has been crucial to many of our Champions League efforts over the years. Of course, every player has their limits. And all of those niggling injuries combined with the physical decline that comes along with a body that just turned 36, it is apparent that his career is dimming. With more rash tackles and sloppy play each season, it is hard to know if it’s time to say goodbye to him. With interest from West Ham and multiple MLS teams, perhaps he will continue to play a little longer in another jersey. But he will always be a bandiera of the red and black to me.

He is not talked about a lot in the media, which is actually very impressive in today's realm of instantly viral social media. And when stories do come out about him, they often fly under the radar, too. Like the way he was the glue that kept this squad together at the beginning of the season. How he invited all the guys over to his house when things were getting difficult and strengthened their resolve and inspired them to keep going in their darkest hour. That is exactly the kind of thing a leader does, and he stepped up big this year, trying to fill the huge void that was left when all of the other Senators left. He may be a quiet captain, but he has also been a rock to this team in this period of transition.

Off the pitch, it's what he doesn't do. On the pitch, it's what he does that defines him

If his last game vs. Siena that saw him sent off with a second yellow was his last game for Milan, it will be a shame. It will certainly not be the way to remember him. For one thing, despite being a God of tackles, he’s not a walking red card. And for another, it was a very atypically understated performance from the usually disciplined and controlled midfielder. But mostly, it would be a shame if people remembered him for that game alone instead of the strong, understated and often clutch player he has been for Milan over the last 18 years. Grazie Capitano.




This post inspired by the music of The Ramones