The Montolivo Piece

This is the third draft of this piece. The first one was called “Montolivo: The Wrong Choice” but that sounded a bit strong. So I deleted it, started again, and came up with Montolivo 2.0, “How Could This Happen?” but by the time I reached the third paragraph “how could this happen” had been answered; scrap it. The third time I think I have the tone right. But let’s just go ahead and air some things out right away so you can decide if this is going to be something you skip to the comments and start trashing now, or if you’ll wait until the end to do so.

  • Riccardo Montolivo had a pre-contract agreement with AC Milan negotiated by Adriano Galliani as a means of securing his signature when he became a free agent in June without a transfer fee
    • As a part of that document, it is widely speculated that there was an agreement for which Montolivo would be given the captaincy as soon as the “old guard” retired (meaning the dawdling Massimo Ambrosini had to be out of the picture)
  • Montolivo’s performances for the Azzurri are not highly lauded. He may be a rotational option in midfield, but he has never taken a definite role in midfield, nor has he ever been “the guy” for the Azzurri.
  • Montolivo (along with Abate and a few other disgruntled players) led the player movement against Clarence Seedorf while he was active manager, providing a direct tool for the chaos in the boardroom to spill over into the locker room.
  • Montolivo was a leak to Gazetta cello Sport and other publications about the inner-workings and issues of the Milan dressing room during Clarence Seedorf’s tenure.


Now then – let’s make this simple: I do not respect Riccardo Montolivo, and as far as I’m concerned, he’s not someone I believe represents AC Milan and the values they hold. Principled stand, right? But now let’s get honest: if he was any good, I might be able to overlook that.

Say Montolivo was actually Andrea Pirlo and had a career that he should be proud of, THEN he could do the things he’s done and get away with it without the alarms going off. Maybe if Montolivo really did what he was supposed to do on his arrival, and take over the holding midfield position and make it his own, then I could overlook things. But Mark Van Bommel in the last 18 months of his career did a better job than Montolivo in his prime, and Nigel De Jong has made Montolivo an afterthought as well, as he’s able to provide similar passing with improved defending senses.

What does Montolivo do well? He can score the odd goal when given time to shoot from distance. He generally does a pretty good job of passing the ball (83.6% career passing, which improved around 86% when he joined Milan) in the deeper areas of the field. For Italy he played the occasional trequartista role, which realistically only worked because of the compliment of midfielders Italy had. But Montolivo has expressed a preference to be played at the trequartista role at some times, and other interviews show him expressing his preference to return to the base of the diamond. Even he isn’t consistent on what his best position it.

So what? Maybe he’s not self aware and understands his best role, but he can still be a great player! Right, while that seems a bit unlikely given that his style requires a highly tactical analysis of passing and dribbling options, but not knowing where to play doesn’t exempt him from being a great player. His one-dimensional play style, his inability to break into a higher speed, the pace he kills from the game at the expense of keeping the passing moving – these are all things that don’t fit with what Inzaghi is doing in the midfield.

Of course Inzaghi is still excited to have Montolivo in the lineup, and has been speaking of his return for quite a while now. He’s not Riccardo, so undermining a former teammate seems unthinkable. He wants his captain to come back and play a strong role in the midfield that literally is starting Muntari. Muntari starts because the midfield is so poor. That’s why the prospect of someone like Montolivo returning seems exciting, and as a coach why shouldn’t it be?

But as a fan of what Inzaghi has been trying to build of late, and a fan of the quick tempo style that is emerging, Montolivo is the worst thing that can happen to this side. Maybe I’m wrong, and he’ll work into the break well. After all, even Adil Rami is laying up assists from deep to the onrushing Honda/Menez/El Shaarawy, perhaps Montolivo’s deep eye can help. I just see the hinderance of his pace, the way he makes the play laborious and slow, and the lack of credible leadership to be something that well… doesn’t exactly excite me. The fact this is the captain… well. These are dark times for AC Milan.


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About Pete Acquaviva

Pete writes about Milan on this blog. Occasionally other things. You would know which of them it is if you've gotten this far.

4 Thoughts on “The Montolivo Piece

  1. PDAcquaviva on December 5, 2014 at 3:16 PM said:

    Keep in mind this is the starting point for the discussion. One stat (especially one as general as passing %) cannot define how a player’s passing actually looks, but the data behind it holds up when you dive deeper. Compare key passes. Look at assists, as well as final third passes. Not much progression. Still doing the same thing with positive effects, which is cycling the ball and occasionally reaching for the big pass. The problem with this is that Pirlo does it better than he does. Pirlo defends less than Riccardo, yes, but he also provides more cutting edge if need be, and can be the difference maker in a side. When was the last time Montolivo was a difference maker and really the best player on the pitch? When has he led by example?

  2. Sambit on December 6, 2014 at 1:59 AM said:

    Nice Article Pete!!!

    A few thoughts:

    1. There is a very high chance that Montolivo knows that he is a jack of most midfield trades and master of absolutely none. Since his move to Milan, it has become overwhelmingly clear that he is not an out and out trequartista, mezzala or regista. The fact that the bar for the midfield ranks that once boasted the likes of Seedorf, Rui Costa, Ambrosini, Gattuso and Pirlo is abysmally low does not help (I have left out Kaka as he was more a secunda punta than a trequartista). Compared to the rest of the midfield Montolivo offers an upgrade in terms of passing and leadership but he was definitely slowing down the tempo for the past 2 seasons. Add to that the fact that he is very one footed and not too good in providing incisive passes or defending and you are faced with a basic problem of fitting him into most formations. In my opinion, his best positions are:

    a) Just ahead of a double pivot 4-3-3: Some people think that he can play on the right side of the double pivot (effectively changing the formation to 4-2-3-1) but defensive reading is required and the team also relies on him in forward transitions
    b) Right Mezzala of a regular 4-3-3: Left is not an option given that he is very one footed. E.g. The round of 16 away leg to Barca in 2011-12 exposed him on the left completely

    which basically means that:
    a) we would require to play in a 4-3-3
    b) De Jong is a starter

    and the next logical question is who else do you fit in out of Muntari/ Essien/ Poli/ Bonaventura/ Saponara/ Van Ginkel?

    I am yet to find the best answer and that for the most part is down to the fact that most other options are bit part and worse at it than Montolivo

    2. The problems that Montolivo brings to the table are not new but the fact that so many people are looking forward to him coming back show the short termism that is present in running of the club. Our midfield has been riddled with problems for at least 2 seasons and yet we do not have a solution. In fact the same can be said about nearly every department. I can’t fault Galliani for his efforts within the limited budget but none of his moves across the roster have given us stability/ long term solutions. Plus Berlusconi’s inability to learn just frustrates e.g. the fact that Kaka did not work out last season should have prevented us from signing Torres. Given the number of strikers that made moves this summer surely we could have done better.

    Till the time we stabilize financially in a new stadium we may only play once or a couple of times in the UCL over the next 4-5 years assuming the Berlusconi’s would be around till then

  3. Montolivo has been very inconsistent in his career. He’s not a world class player, he’s just filled a need. His passing is decent, but there are plenty who are better. That said, for the quality of players Milan have on the roster now, he is unfortunately a key player.

    However the captain thing is just plain wrong. Milan had always based its captaincy on players who not only showed leadership, but who had seniority at the club. And it’s not just the fact that they did this, it’s how. Like pushing Ambrosini out, Abbiati, the rightful captain, who has been at the club over 15 years longer than Montolivo, was informed via press conference that he would be handing the armband over. Disgusting.

    The behind the scenes but not exactly behind the scenes games that Montolivo played with Seedorf after he was benched and Mexes wore the armband were insulting beyond belief, not only to the shirt but to the captain’s armband. Think about it: Baresi and Maldini wore that armband not so long ago. Men who conducted their lives on and off the pitch an an exemplary manner, and who would never have tolerated a rat like Montolivo in their squad, much less as their captain. Meanwhile, Montolivo used his injury to take an extended honeymoon with his new wife, posting pics of their adventures on Twitter *while Milan was playing friendlies.* No mention of the team *he was captain of* or their matches. Compare to De Jong, who despite being in a timezone 9 hours behind while rehabbing from injury, would always tweet ahead of and after the matches to wish his teammates luck/congratulate, etc.

    Montolivo is a cancer to the squad. I don’t care if he was Pirlo, his behavior is not conducive to the captain’s armband, let alone the Milan crest.


  4. RossoneriFido on December 7, 2014 at 5:03 AM said:

    Thanks Pete
    You are absolutely right in everything you have mentioned. Montolivo is not great in anything he does on the pitch. He is at best very good in maintaining posession. You have saod it though when our options are Essien and Muntari, I am glad to have Montolivo. If we could only sell him for whatever and sign Van Ginkel permenantly that would be great.
    Thanks and Forza Milan

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