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Adil Rami: Not Just Another Fairy Tale


Not everyone has the privilege of playing football professionally after spending years training and playing as a youth. And in fact, I would be willing to bet that even fewer players who ever played for an amateur side after the age of 18 ever wound up as professional footballers, least of all at Milan. Least of all wearing the jersey of their boyhood idol. Or representing their country on the national team. And yet, that is exactly what Rami did. Although he is 28 years old, he did not sign with a professional club until 2007. He is definitely not just another fairy tale.

Welcome to Milan, Shrek!

Rami was born on the island of Corsica to Moroccan parents. They moved to Fréjus on the French mainland when he was a boy, and when his father abandoned them, he was forced to take multiple paying jobs on top of his schooling and football training. His mother worked for the city, and so did he, taking jobs like cleaning up graffiti off of walls, cleaning the streets, or working as a mechanic.

So he continued to play for the local youth team, Étoile Fréjus Saint-Raphael, or ES Fréjus. At 18, instead of a big club contract, he played with the French fourth division amateur ES Fréjus side. He played as a midfielder until 2005, when an injury to another player saw the coach put him at center back, which is where he would thrive. His fairy tale finally began at the age of 19, when he was offered a trial at Lille’s fourth division team and signed for a transfer fee of €10.000. However, he still played for Lille’s fourth division team until May of 2007, when he was called up to Lille’s first team in Ligue 1.

And this is not even why he's nicknamed after an ogre

In June of 2007, he signed his first professional contract with Lille, a three year deal. All was going well, in spite of a knee ligament injury that kept him out for 3 ½ months. At the end of the 2008-09 season, despite having signed a two year contract extension after his first season, there was a lot of interest from clubs like Marseille, Lyon, Liverpool, Arsenal, and some team called AC Milan. However, a €12m transfer to Marseille was stopped by Lille chairman Michel Seydoux. That was when the world saw what an ogre Rami could be.

He accused then-Lille coach Rudi Garcia of not being honest with him, threatened to play in the reserves for the remainder of his contract, and claimed that there was a conspiracy between Lille and Lyon, amongst other things. Eventually, he apologized, and started with Lille again for the 2009-10 season, also playing in Europa League for them. In January of 2011, he agreed to a transfer to Spanish side Valencia, a transfer set to take place in June of that year. His tally at Lille would end up at 142 appearances and 10 goals for the French club.

He is certainly spirited

At Valencia,  he would feature 74 times and score 5 goals, including this amazing goal vs. Llagostera in November of 2012. But once again, last fall, he would insult Valencia’s coach, his teammates, and the entire club. This time, he wore out his welcome, and Valencia sought to loan him out for the rest of the season. How strange that by having such a tantrum, he would end up at the club of his boyhood idol, Alessandro Nesta, whose number 13 jersey also just happened to be available. So in November, he arrived at AC Milan, having been given permission by Valencia to train with Milan until the January transfer window opened and his 6 month loan with option to buy became official. And Monday, he made his debut as a sub in the 83rd minute vs. Atalanta for the injured Zapata.

As if his story on the pitch wasn’t already not exactly your typical fairy tale, he also made his debut for France in August of 2011, having turned down the Moroccan national team in 2008, aspiring to play for the country “who gave him food to eat.” Despite other offers from Morocco, he held out, and was rewarded by making Raymond Domenech’s preliminary roster ahead of the 2010 World Cup, even if he never played a match for him and didn’t end up making the World Cup squad. Under Laurent Blanc, however, he eventually became a regular, playing alongside Mexes, and he played in Euro 2012 for France, too. He now has 26 caps and 1 goal for France.

Will the French national CB pairing answer Milan's defensive questions?

But off the pitch, he is even more colorful than his unusual career would imply. At Lille, teammates gave him the nickname of “Shrek.” Not for his tendency to turn into an ogre and insult everyone around, but rather because he eats like an ogre and is also known for his impressive belching abilities. He once posed nude for a French calendar, and considers himself a bit of a sex symbol to both women and men. In fact, he was the first footballer to ignore traditional homophobic tendencies and give an interview to a gay magazine, the same magazine which had named him the “most beautiful player in Ligue 1,” ahead of former Milan player Gourcuff. However, chasing women has been a hobby of his since he was a teenager, and his current girlfriend is very beautiful and also apparently has a penchant for not wearing many clothes while being photographed.

He had a Twitter account, but apparently was ordered to close it because he was very good at insulting people who criticized him there, too. He has insulted the Zlatan (and lived to tell about it,) and is also prone to insulting referees and otherwise being sent off in matches. He is a joker and considers himself very outgoing, but also spends a lot of time grooming himself and staying fit. He once injured himself dancing Gangnam Style, but also likes to play Call of Duty. Basically, he likes to grab life by the horns, and is never dull or boring. And Mexes is not his only connection to Milan. Kevin Constant and he are from the same area in France, and were boyhood friends who have kept in touch. This explains so much.

Can Milan "reform" the ogre in him?

His on-the-pitch play follows the same style as he likes to live, complete with random meltdowns. But he is tough, aggressive, and fearless. His defending style has been described as “old-school,” but he says that if he can give something more, he will. In fact, he has been known to attempt the Mexes-style overhead bicycle kick, amongst other things.

I am uncertain how long this Frenchman will be with us. He is still unpolished, coming into professional football a little late in the game, and like certain footballers he has called out, never seems to stay in any one place for long. But his enthusiasm for life both on and off the pitch could be just what we need this season to change our fortunes. And who better to do it than a character from a fairy tale? Even if Shrek was also not your typical fairy tale, it had a happy ending, right? So welcome to Milan, Rami. May your fairy tale finally come true here.


This post inspired by the music from Cinderella: "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes"


Our next match is
Sassuolo vs. Milan
Sunday, January 12 •20:45 CET (2:45pm EST)
(preview will be up tomorrow)