Sunday, June 16, 2013

Bryan Cristante: Midfield Prodigy

There was an announcement from Galliani this week that seemed almost unbelievable: he said that Bryan Cristante was going to replace Massimo Ambrosini. I have a feeling he didn’t exactly mean it literally. After all, Cristante is literally half Ambrosini’s age. Half. How does an 18 year-old directly replace a 36 year-old who has won so many trophies? And Allegri didn’t even play Cristante once this season. But even still, it says a lot for a Primavera player to come straight into the first team, something that was announced just halfway through the season, too. And not only straight from the Primavera, but at the tender age of 18, too. There can only be one plausible explanation: Cristante is a midfield prodigy.

The young Cristante when he first came to Milan in 2009

I will be honest when I say that there is not a lot of information available on our youngest new midfielder. But I can say that he did actually make a first team appearance in 2011 in the Champions League, of all places. He was a sub in the draw against Viktoria Plzen. And at the age of 16 years old and 278 days, he became the youngest Milan player ever to feature in a Champions League match, the third youngest player to make an official appearance at all for Milan. So it would be easy to infer that the kid has talent. Except he has only ever made that one appearance in an official match, so exactly how talented he is remains to be seen.

He was the Golden Boy at the Viareggio Cup, will he be golden for the first team?

That talent saw him join Milan’s Youth Sector in 2009. He had played at his local clubs Casarsa and Liventina Gorghense prior to his move to Milan. He was on the Giovanissimi Nazionale team that won the Campionato in 2010, scoring 8 goals. Under Coach Aldo Dolcetti’s watch, Cristante grew in the Primavera team and often impressed. In fact, in February of this year, in the Viareggio Cup, he was voted the MVP or “Golden Boy” of the entire tournament, an award that is voted on by a panel of journalists.

Captain Cristante in Russia representing Italy's U18 team
(picture via @MilanNext)

But he didn’t only stand out for Milan, he has also consistently played for the Italian national teams at the U16, U17, and U18 levels. (He plays for Italy but also holds a Canadian passport due to his father being born there.) In fact, at the Valentin Grenatkin Memorial Tournament in Russia earlier this year, he not only captained the U18 side, but also won the MVP award when Italy faced Belarus. Maybe it is just this combination of talent and leadership that made it easy for Galliani to say his name in the same sentence as Ambrosini’s.

He was the MVP in Italy's match against Belarus... sign of great things to come?
(picture via @MilanNext)

If I am remembering my youth sector lore correctly, he has played as kind of a sweeper in the center of a 3-man defense, in front of the defense, as an attacking midfielder, and even as a forward on occasion. I suppose that is not terribly unusual for a young player to move around and find their place. But it concerns me a little bit in that Allegri really likes to move players around, and his idea of their best position and the player’s concept of their best position are not always the same. Not to mention us YouTube experts, who know everything about every player and where they should play after watching a 2 minute compilation video. The rumors say he will most likely deputize for Montolivo, but we will have to wait and see what his Milan future holds exactly. The fact that he is flexible, talented, and seems to have a good attitude is enough for me.

He toured the U.S. last summer with the first team, now he's part of the first team

Personally, he won me over when he broke Antonini’s nose in training near the end of the season. Antonini was dangerously close to full fitness and an inevitable start next to Bonera as per Allegri, and Cristante made sure that didn’t happen. Sign him up. Well actually, we already did. In March, the day after his 18th birthday, Cristante signed his first professional contract with Milan, a 5 year contract. Which was a triumph not only for him and for the first team, but also for the youth sector, to have produced another player talented enough to move straight to the first team.

Cristante's appearance in the Trofeo TIM last year vs. Inter

Despite not getting any playing time this past season from Allegri, I hope to see him earn some starts this coming season. He has made some unofficial appearances with the first team, including the Trofeo TIM and the U.S. tour last July, now it’s time to let him get a few official matches under his belt. He is only 18, so he may not start every match, but has always seemed level-headed and very skilled what little amount that I have seen him play. And if he is able to shine like he has for both Milan’s youth teams and the Italian national youth teams, then I think the best is yet to come. Welcome to the first team, Cristante. Now let’s see what the kid is made of: bring on Milan’s midfield prodigy.

This post inspired by the music of Fun.