Alessio Romagnoli: Apprentice Captain


In 2015, with Mihajlovic as Milan’s manager, he fought hard to bring Romagnoli to the club. While there were so many surprisingly beloved things about Mihajlovic, him giving Gigio Donnaruma his first team start at the age of 16 and also bringing Romagnoli to Milan at the age of 20 are two of the most impactful things that any coach has done for the club in years. Romagnoli came in and fought hard, and less than five years later, he is a great defender and the undisputable captain of this team, even if he was originally more of an apprentice captain.

The young captain

Alessio Romagnoli was born south of Rome in the Lazio region of Italy and is a professed lifelong Lazio fan, but grew up playing in the Roma youth sector. His initial call up to Roma’s first team came in 2012, ironically from the legendary attacking coach, Zeman. Being so young, and also being a defender, however, he did not see a lot of playing time under the manager. His debut was in a Coppa Italia match, and he made one league start and one substitution, scoring one goal that season.

His next season he made eight starts with three substitutions, mostly under then Roma coach Rudi Garcia. He played both at center back and also full back under Garcia. This season also saw his discipline issues begin, as he also accumulated four yellow cards in those few appearances. However, he impressed enough to sign a four-year contract renewal with Roma at the end of the season.

The young Roma player celebrates

As a 19 year-old center back, he was loaned out to Sampdoria for the 2014-15 season to get some playing time. The loan deal included a buyout clause for Sampdoria, as well as a buyback clause for Roma. This loan would connect him with former Lazio player and then Sampdoria coach, Mihajlovic. Under Mihajlovic, he really began to show his worth. He had 31 appearances in all competitions and two goals and two assists that season. Those are great numbers for an experienced center back. Unfortunately, he also had nine yellow cards that season.

An emerging talent at Sampdoria

Roma exercised their buyback clause after the year loan, and in the meantime, Milan sacked Inzaghi and hired Mihajlovic to coach the upcoming season. This particular transfer window was the one where Berlusconi dropped a cool €90 million while he was in talks with Mr. Bee Taechaubol, expecting the latter to buy the club and pay him back. That €90 million did not go very far in Galliani’s slippery fingers, but Romagnoli was the one player that Mihajlovic really pushed for, even at the price of €25 million for a young defender. Not surprisingly, of the other players that window, most significantly Bacca, Bertolacci, and Adriano, Romagnoli would be the only player that really worked out, too.

Scores first league goal for Milan in the Derby 

His transfer caused more controversy when, as he was leaving Roma, Romagnoli trolled all of the Roma fans by posting an image of himself wearing a Lazio jersey. While his troll earned him immediate respect from many Milan fans, it also earned him at least one death threat from a Roma fan. This is the apprentice side of him, where what seems funny and a good idea at the time is not necessarily a well-thought-out plan, and doesn’t quite work out as well as we would all like.

The troll

What did work out well was his first season at Milan. He made a total of 40 appearances in all competitions, scored a goal in the Coppa Italia, and was even named man of the match one of those matches. His talent was immediately apparent, he was strong, had great positioning, and was fantastic in the air. At the age of only 20 years old, he was calm and confident. Many compared him to Nesta, who was not only Romagnoli’s idol, but also the reason he chose the number 13. Again, he was only 20. Name another 20 year-old center back making 40 appearances at club like Milan. He was clearly something very special.

Nesta and Mihajlovic at Milanello, Romagnoli's world was coming full circle

Once again, though, his discipline was his weak spot. He was a little mean, giving an extra little kick or push or shove here and there, or even just staring down someone he had just tackled. The refs also took issue with some of his physicality, awarding him eight yellows and a red that season alone. Despite being a natural leader in his playing style, he was still an apprentice with the self-control part of leadership, as some of his cards were earned for dissent.

Romagnoli’s growth under Mihajlovic was tangible and very evident, which mentorship unfortunately came to an abrupt end when the manager was shockingly sacked by Berlusconi with only six matches left of the season. After the Brocchi setback, Montella was hired for the 2016-17 season, and Romagnoli would continue to grow as a player on his own, in spite of all the turmoil at the club.

A token for his dedication

For that season, he would make 27 league appearances with his first Serie A goal in the Derby, and an assist. He also played all 120 minutes of the Supercoppa match in December against Juventus, keeping a clean sheet. Milan won that match on penalties, which gave Romagnoli his first taste of a real trophy. He continued to grow as a player, becoming increasingly reliable as someone who would always be there when needed. His partnership and trust with Gigio Donnarumma also continued to grow, a core relationship in the team that gave confidence to everyone. Romagnoli also only received four yellow cards and a red card this season.

Two amazing young talents, growing together

After changing ownership to Yonghong Li, there was a new center back by the name of Leonardo Bonucci for the 2017-18 season. He was given the captain’s armband, and while his year at Milan and being given the captaincy are largely criticized by the Milan faithful, there was one person who truly benefitted from this move: Romagnoli. Despite being injured at the beginning of the season, Montella being sacked and Gattuso coming on, he made 36 appearances beside Bonucci in Serie A and Europe, scoring two goals. The apprentice learned from a world class and Italy national team player what it meant to be a captain, as well as improving his defensive game. Unfortunately, he also earned eight yellows and a red card, most of those coming in the first half of the season under Montella.

The apprentice and his teacher

The 2018-19 season brought some joy for Milan fans, as Romagnoli scored game-winning, stoppage time goals twice, in back-to-back games. It was the kind of demonstration that engraves your name on the hearts of the fans worldwide. That he also did it in his first season as captain made him that much more endeared to the fans. Milan’s team was very young that season, but he was entrusted with the armband at the tender age of 23 years old.

When Bonucci left, I noted that Romagnoli needed just one more year before the apprentice would be ready. The discipline would show that theory to be correct. He would again receive eight yellow cards and a red card, many of them for dissent. He was fined by the league at least twice because his example was so poor as a captain. He left us hanging with the suspensions, and he struggled a bit overall with the weight of the armband.

The refs and Romagnoli are not BFFs

This season, however, he was a seasoned captain. In 26 appearances, he only received four yellow cards, and none of them were for dissent.  He was calm and cool under pressure, and his partnership with Musacchio was solid, with the young Italian covering for the more seasoned Argentinian. With yet another coaching change, he also adapted seamlessly when Pioli chose to start Kjaer instead, again sometimes covering for the 30 year-old. And when injuries forced Pioli to debut the young Gabbia, the recently turned 25 year-old captain was a perfect mentor. He is wise, and a natural leader on and off the pitch. He immediately earns the respect of teammates and opponents alike, in spite of his young age.

Italy's future

Romagnoli has represented Italy at the U16, U17, U19, and U21 levels, and at the tender age of 21, got his first cap for the senior Italian national team. Largely regarded as the future of Italy’s famous defense, his elegant tackles and breathtaking stops and clearances will likely see him live up to his legendary predecessors, including defenders like Baresi, Maldini, and his idol, Nesta.

Hero

Romagnoli has seen three ownership changes, four different sporting directors, and six different coaches in the less than five years he has been at the club. The future of Milan is still very uncertain, the fate of the entire world is very uncertain in this moment. But one thing that is very certain is that Romagnoli is a top defender. Should Milan make the mistake of selling him, he has already been sought after by some of the biggest clubs in the world. Fans hope he will stay, of course. Because not only is he a tremendously talented defender, but the apprentice is finally a true captain.


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

Alessio Romagnoli: Apprentice Captain Alessio Romagnoli: Apprentice Captain Reviewed by Elaine on 12:06 AM Rating: 5
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