In Appreciation of Abate's Army

With so many changes happening in the first team, we cannot forget that there are also big changes happening with our Milan Primavera, or U19 men's team. The ones I like to call "Abate's Army" happened to have what ended up being their final match of the Primavera 1 season kicking off just over two hours before the first team's final match. There were plenty of emotions going on there already, when a few minutes into that one, the news came through from Abate's press conference that he would also be leaving. Having managed the U16 team, then this Primavera side for two years, he was essential in creating one of the most successful youth sides we have had at Milan in years, with historic UEFA Youth League Semifinal and then Final matches, in back to back seasons. It just feels like no one is talking enough about this team, and especially the former Milan player who built it.

Abate has taken young players and prepared them for battle on and off the pitch.

If you are not familiar with the name Ignazio Abate, you do not need to look too far back in Milan's history. He himself came through Milan's youth system, but spent his first few years on loan, then on the infamous co-ownership deals until Milan bought out his contract fully and brought him into the team again in 2009. It did not take long for him to claim the role of starting right back, known especially for his speed. He stayed in the team for ten years, becoming a natural leader on and off the pitch, until he chose to retire at the age of 32 rather than play for another club.

Abate shown here between Gattuso and Ibrahimović celebrating the 2011 Scudetto win in Rome as players.

From there, he originally wanted to be a director, taking those courses. But instead, he chose the family business. His father Beniamino Abate, was a former goalkeeper, and became a goalkeeping coach for Milan, and then the Milan youth sector. Abate obtained the necessary coaching badges to begin, and in 2021 was hired as the U16 manager for Milan. He managed to take that team all the way to the Scudetto final, where they unfortunately lost to a single goal in stoppage time. 

Abate's very first day of training the Milan U16 side in 2021.

The following year, he was promoted to the Primavera side, moving up with many of his players, some of whom have now spent their last three years with him. I am sure this helped create the wonderful team unity and family spirit within this amazing team. Abate's first year as Primavera manager produced some mixed results. In their league, they finished an underwhelming 12th place. 

The Primavera side that faced Chelsea away in London.

However, with the senior team in the Champions League, that meant the Primavera also participated in the UEFA Youth League. Emulating the first team, and in the spirit of Milan's true DNA, Abate led his young team all the way to the UEFA Youth League Semifinal after defeating Atlético Madrid Juvenil A side 2-0, ironically coached by former Milan player Fernando Torres. This was the first Milan side ever to make it to the Semifinal, and only the third Italian team to ever make it this deep into the competition. Unfortunately, Milan Primavera lost that Semifinal 3-1 to Hajduk Split.

The Primavera side from 2022-23 who made the first UEFA Youth League Semifinal in Milan history.

This past season, his team grew even more. They finished top of their Group in the UEFA Youth League, and then marched all the way to the UEFA Youth League Final, the first Italian team to ever do this. Along the way, they beat Braga, Real Madrid, and then Porto on penalties. The Primavera captain, Kevin Zeroli, was clutch, scoring the final penalty in each of those three matches, while the goalkeeper, Noah Reveyre, made saves and was unshakable under the pressure. They all were, it was amazing.

Abate circling his troops ahead of the Semifinal vs. Porto.

The final vs. Olympiacos was heartbreaking, as Milan dominated much of the match until a controversial penalty was awarded, and Olympiacos converted it, then scored two more goals in quick succession to win the tournament 3-0. Our boys deserved better, but they still had made history, and made all of us proud. Certainly, no other Italian side ever did as well in this competition.

Abate's Penalty Kings.

In the Primavera 1 league this year, Abate's Army finished in sixth place, much better than the previous year. This also qualified them for the Scudetto playoffs, where they faced third place Lazio in the first match. That one ended 1-1, and the rules of the tournament clearly state that in the event of a draw, the team that is ranked higher on the table automatically goes through. So unfortunately, that ended up being Abate's last match with his team, and he broke the news of his departure shortly thereafter.

The history making Milan Primavera side.

One of the plausible causes for the Primavera not finishing even higher in the league was due to the fact that Abate's Army became essential to the first team when the injury crisis grew to epic proportions this season. Pioli found it necessary to call up a number of the Primavera players to reinforce his squad often, and even give them playing time. This, of course, meant that they were often unavailable for their own matches, and Abate's side suffered.

One of the more memorable goals of the season, when Simić scored on his debut.

However, for those who played, and for Milan fans, it also brought us amazing moments such as Simić scoring on his San Siro debut against Monza in December. Or watching Leão hug Chaka Traorè after he scored on his full debut at San Siro against Cagliari in the Coppa Italia. The 15 year-old phenom Camarda got his debut at the San Siro, making history by becoming the youngest Milan player and the youngest ever player to take the pitch in Serie A against Fiorentina in November. 

Camarda making history, along with several other Primavera players called up in support\

We got a number of looks at young players like Alex Jiménez, Bartesaghi, Zeroli, Simić, Chaka Traorè, and more. Even the young Nava got a few minutes in goal in the last match. And it started all the way back in preseason, with several of the players joining the first team in the U.S. I remember getting to see my first look at Bartesaghi and Simić up close here in Los Angeles, actually.

Helping instill self-belief and mentality at a crucial age.

The impact Abate has made with these young players has not been limited to the Primavera and first teams, either. Just last week, four of Abate's Army – Camarda, Liberali, Longoni, and Sala – won the U17 Euro tournament for Italy. They were the first Italian side ever to win the competition, and Camarda was named the player of the tournament as well. He even scored two of his goals in the final, a 3-0 win over Portugal's U17. The future is bright for Milan and for Italy, and Abate is to thank for much of that success.

Abate was entrusted with some important talents during their formative years.

Abate is currently completing his UEFA Pro license at Coverciano, studying alongside the likes of Alessandro Del Piero. They recently spent a weekend under the tutelage of the legendary Milan manager, Carlo Ancelotti, who just became the first manager to win five Champions League titles after his latest win with Real Madrid. Following his initial announcement on the final matchday, there has been no official statement about his departure from the club. However, after they only gave him a one year contract extension last year after he took his team to the Semifinal in Nyon, his announcement was not a complete surprise.

Success at the highest youth level, he is definitely ready for more.

With the creation of the Milan U23 team, expected to become completely official later this week once the open spot in Serie C is confirmed by officials, many fans had hoped that Abate would be the manager of that side, moving up once again with many of his Army of talented young players. However, even with his longtime good friend Ibrahimović overseeing that project, Bonera was appointed instead, having been an assistant manager of the first team for five seasons. Of course, that leaves an opening in Pioli's support team, so perhaps he will be an assistant to the outgoing Milan manager in whatever new venture he chooses. Or maybe it will be time for Abate to take the reins of his own team in Serie B or Serie C or somewhere.

As he completes his thesis and training, he also has a big decision to make about his future.

Or perhaps, with the lack of a formal announcement, Milan are hoping to hang onto Abate in one way or another. We could only be so lucky. He is one of the people who helped restore Milan's DNA from the inside out, teaching our young players what it means to wear the Milan shirt and how to carry themselves on and off the pitch. Wherever Abate lands, his future is as bright as the many talented players he has helped to shape and mold during his three years on the Milan youth benches. 

Abate has helped to mold and shape the mentality of players like Zeroli.

One of his players, Clinton Nsiala, made the move to Rangers this week, and he said of Abate, "If I am what I am today besides my feet and hard work, it's all because of you, who always believed in me and continue to do so." That belief created success for these players in multiple teams and will continue to pay dividends as these players move on to Milan's U23 and first teams. So even long after he is gone, Milan will be benefitting from Abate's Army. And there is truly one person that we owe the most appreciation to... Grazie, Mister Abate.

This post inspired by the music of Muse's "Soldier's Poem"

Edit: The day after this was posted, both Abate and the club posted farewell messages on social media.

Abate's message from his Instagram post, translated:

In Appreciation of Abate's Army In Appreciation of Abate's Army Reviewed by Elaine on 3:00 PM Rating: 5
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