Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Legend of Daniele Bonera


June 30, 2015. That is the date that Daniele Bonera’s contract expired. A date that will go down in the history of AC Milan forever. For there has never been, and likely never will be a defender like Daniele Bonera. The effects of the decision not to renew his contract may never be able to be measured in the realm of football, such was the impact that this one player had on the game. But for today, I will try to put into mere words what kind of player he was for Milan. I am sure I will not be able to do him justice, but for better or for worse, here is the Legend of Daniele Bonera.

The ball passes right by him into the net, such a familiar sight


Many think that Bonera spent his entire career at Milan, such was the influence he had on this club. So it may surprise fans to learn that there was life before Bonera in the red and black. That’s right, Bonny, as his teammates like to call him, was born and raised in Brescia, and he came through the Brescia youth system. After being promoted to the first team in 1999, he made 60 unforgettable appearances for his home club (or was that forgettable? I can’t remember.) But even hometown heroes have to move on sometimes, and so Bonny went to Parma in 2002, where he would spend four years and at least one truly incredible moment with the club.

January 26, 2003 was the zenith of Bonera’s career. It was this day, vs. his hometown club of Brescia, that the defender scored his singular career goal. It was in the 30th minute, and it was apparently so incredible and sacred that there is no video recording of it that exists. And though he had finally reached the mountaintop, just nine minutes later, some hack called Roberto Baggio equalized his goal for Brescia, rendering Bonera’s once in a lifetime event useless in a 1-1 draw. Which in hindsight is probably fair, because Parma’s new hero, #5, was also developing his trademark defending, including missing the player behind him, and also the turning around and raising his hand for offside on Baggio’s equalizer. Bonera has always been so generous.

An appropriate sponsor for such a happy player

It is unknown how a player of his significance did not come to a big club sooner, but in 2006, probably not coincidentally as Calciopoli was breaking, Milan finally signed the haphazard hero. The rest is truly the stuff legends are made of. Over 200 appearances in all competitions for the Rossoneri, and yet the goals conceded are too numerous to be counted. He is a rare defender who put goodwill in front of winning, he taught the concept of sharing with nearly every appearance. He was every other team’s favorite defender, and you could literally see the gleam in opposing coaches’ eyes when they saw Milan’s #25 in the starting lineup.

And I don’t even know if you could call what he did defending, his efforts seemed more to be always out of place, to be oblivious of his mark, to awkwardly feign the attempt to catch a man who passed him and his snail-like pace, or when all else failed to simply slip and fall. Occasionally, he would personally take it upon himself to test the Milan keepers by deflecting the ball into our own net. He was always looking out for his teammates.

Daniele Bonera “Most Underrated Defender” from 2012
Almost three minutes worth of highlights from the Legend

But not to lull the fans into a complacent hatred, he randomly impressed, mostly in big games (and sometimes at right back.) He could mark Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo as well as any other defender in the world, and thwart their every attempt on goal. This earned him another nickname, “Big Game Bonera™,” the defender who only showed up in the big games. And for those appearances, we can truly never forget his sacrifices. He changed his playing style, sacrificed his kind ways, and did something that seemed impossible for him to do: actually defend. His generosity truly knows no bounds.

Even Cristiano Ronaldo was amazed by Bonny's amazing skillz

Lest you should underestimate the legendary status that Bonera created, let me share a personal experience I had. When I traveled to Milano to watch a match three years ago, I saw street vendors everywhere selling unauthorized Milan merchandise. Though only an authentic Bonera jersey would satisfy my desire to own the ultimate jersey of a legend, I had to find out what these fake jerseys were going for. I wondered if they had sold out of Bonera jerseys, since I didn’t see them right up front as expected. Every vendor I asked, in both English and Italian, “Do you have a Bonera jersey?” looked at me dumbfounded, as if I had asked for a papal inauguration tiara or something. That is the kind of legendary mystique that Bonny created.

Our #25 always struck fear in his opponents, even on some guy called Lionel Messi

Off the pitch, he was truly Milan class. Everyone’s friend and happy to step in as captain or vice captain when offered, he managed to earn the respect of his teammates despite his abysmal performances on the pitch. So if you ever watched him play, you know what a truly good person he must be. He was a family man, never known to get into trouble or stay out too late, always a good example to the newer and younger players at Milan, always wearing a smile. This frankly was his finest contribution to the club, and the reason that, in 2013, the club offered him a two year contract extension. They said that it was primarily for his influence in the locker room, but Milan fans know that his contributions on the pitch far exceeded those expectations.

His leadership skills well exceeded his footballing skills

Statisticians have been unable to count how many goals Milan conceded these past two years where Bonera was involved in the demise. Part of that reason is because he had been labeled Patient Zero, the originator of the plague of Milan, and more specifically Milan’s defense. Statisticians have been unable to quantify the goals conceded by other defenders, who, trying to emulate the legend, adopted his benevolent playing style. Even now, to honor the legend, the new Milan team without Bonny have conceded a goal first in every friendly. His influence at Milan may never end.

Not even some guy called Kobe Bryant could resist snapping a pic with the Legend.

But luckily for fans, his physical presence at Milan has now ended. No more will we see the One Goal Wonder™ or Big Game Bonera™. It’s hard to imagine that it’s only been nine years with him at Milan, it feels like an eternity. But at the ripe young age of 34, he has plenty of time to smile and convince another team to take on his kind brand of defending, or to perhaps contemplate another career entirely where his cheerful values and questionable skills will not conflict with his job description. The world awaits the next move of Daniele Bonera, Legend.


This post inspired by the music of the Foo Fighters’ “My Hero”


Our next match is
The ICC Tournament
AC Milan vs. Inter
Saturday, July 25 • 20:00 CST (8:00am EDT)
Shenzhen Universiade Sports Center, Shenzhen