AC Milan formally announced the appointment of Riccardo Montolivo as the club captain for next season replacing the outgoing Massimo Ambrosini. The decision is a truly heartening one considering the kind of immediate impact Montolivo has had since his arrival at Milan a year ago. But is this something Milan are proactively doing after not acting decisively enough with Thiago Silva two years ago? TheHardTackle takes a look.Milan Montolivo

With the wisdom of hindsight, you might want to divide the season AC Milan just played into two chapters ai??i?? The first one quite clearly having been envisaged, scripted and run on his shoulders single-handedly by Stephan El Shaarawy while just as he started to run out of steam, up stepped Mario Balotelli to keep the engine running and conclude an enigmatic second chapter of the season that earned the team a Champions League spot in the most dramatic of fashions. But while both these protagonists of their respective chapters remained largely indifferent in the other one (Balotelli was signed midway in the season), in Riccardo Montolivo, Milan had the driving force that remained the only constant of the season ai??i?? a force that ensured the team never fell too far off the track after the horrific beginning to the season.

For those of you familiar with software programming, there are countless jobs and processes that run in the background for any programmed application to function smoothly during its execution. For any software to deliver the desired results it is imperative for these background processes to run continuously and a single error in their running can result into an unexpected crash of application at the userai??i??s end. The important point to note here is that it is only an error on their part that gets these background processes the attention both from the user and the programmer. While they are performing, no matter how critical their role is, theyai??i??re hardly noticed. If AC Milan were to be a personification of a software functioning in real time, Riccardo Montolivo most certainly may be the collective representation of all those processes running in the background together.

When signed on a free transfer last summer from Fiorentina, few expected Montolivo to have the kind of impact he had on Milanai??i??s fortunes. It may also be argued that it was the lack of world class pedigree of players left in Milan that perhaps made Montolivo a far better looking player than what heai??i??d have been in an ideal situation. However, retrospective analysis shall have no end to it and keeping things in context, there is little debate over the fact that the upcoming Milan sides, or at least their midfield component, will have to be designed around one player and one player only. It is therefore the clubai??i??s decision to hand over the armband to Montolivo for the next season and hopefully for the many upcoming ones is a wise, sensible and progressive one.

Massimo Ambrosini was the last remaining of the generation of Milan senators after a host of them parted ways at the end of last season. With the likes of Maldini, Nesta, Pirlo, Gattuso, Seedorf, Shevchenko, Inzaghi, Rui Costa and Kaka in the squad, Milan won several trophies and more importantly, were perhaps the most formidable unit across Europe. Ambrosini was the last remaining action hero at Milan of all those names and now that his departure has been confirmed, Milan are in a dire need to form a new identity. And identity of a club is one attribute that is formed around players who continue to play over a considerably period of time and are central to the managerai??i??s strategy to success.

However, in todayai??i??s materially driven world, it is not easy hold on to your best players unless your owner is printing petrodollars in Russia or Middle East ai??i?? much less for a club like Milan whose owner is better off being less spoken of. The definition of loyalty among players is losing its relevance by the day and hence man-management is becoming a major bone of contention for clubs these days; so much so that even the managers are judged more based on their ability to build and maintain a healthy dressing room than on their footballing acumen. It is very important to make the key players feel important and reassure them they are the ones forming the core to the clubai??i??s plans for the future. There are several gestures on the clubai??i??s part that indicate their avidity to retain the services of the player. Handing over the clubai??i??s armband to a player is one such gesture ai??i?? perhaps the most powerful one.

Ambrosiniai??i??s natural successor at Milan would certainly have been Christian Abbiati ai??i?? clubai??i??s vice captain and the long time servant having been through the thick and thin. But this is where the management had to act decisively and boy they did! A day after quashing the rumours of Montolivo being linked with a move to Sevilla, the club has come out and declared him the captain for next season. Not only this goes on to show the coach and management are extremely confident in his ability to lead the side but also strengthens the bond of love the player feels towards the club and its fans. It must be noted that Montolivo is only a year old Milan player and there were risks of this appointment not being too well received in several quadrants. But beating those psychological shackles, what Milan have taken is a step in the right direction to take the team forward from here.

Montolivo MilanThat Montolivo is one of the best in the league in his position cannot be contested but there are several other attributes to his personality that may have played a role in his selection for this position. Montolivo is the most balanced individual in the present Milan setup and is a guiding force to his average at best teammates forming the midfield alongside him. His demeanour on the pitch is that of a thorough gentleman and hardly loses his composure. These qualities very often reflect in his game too. Ai??Even during the last season, he was assigned the captain’s responsibilities at times and he had fared admirably well in those games – the ones against Juventus and Fiorentina deserve special mention. This shows he has the right mindset to take his game to even further levels when assigned a greater responsibility. His refusal to celebrate the goal he scored against Fiorentina spoke very highly of his class despite being constantly booed by the home fans right from the word go. His commitment and energy are second to none and that makes him a natural heir to Ambrosini, who was known for his passion that kept him going despite not being the technically strongest one.

Not to forget that football is one sport where the coach remains the most important figure having a direct impact to a teamai??i??s success of failure or a captain is nevertheless a figure players want to look up to. In any team sport, players do draw the motivation and inspiration from their colleagues and there are countless examples of an able leader elevating the standards of the players around him with his inspiring presence. In Montolivo, Milan now have their most consistent performer donning the armband and that should certainly be well received both among the youngsters as well as the senior crop of players.

Thiago Silva AC MilanAt this stage however, one decision that the club should have taken a couple of seasons back but did not and perhaps paid heavily for it comes to mind. Post the Serie A triumph in the year 2011 when Milan were riding high on all fronts, possibly there was a chance for transition of leadership. In Thiago Silva, Milan had arguably the worldai??i??s best player in his position and a gesture of confidence in his abilities by offering him the armband could have proved very vital from a long term perspective. That would not by any stretch of imagination have meant a disrespect to a club legend like Ambrosini as his role in the starting eleven had already been considerably reduced. It would have been a decision akin to the one Sir Alex Ferguson took of making Nemanja Vidic the captain of the club ahead of a host of senior players addressing the need of the hour.

A year later, PSG came knocking and Thiago Silva was sold for a record transfer fee but had the leadership been passed a season ago to the Brazilian, itai??i??d have been very hard to even consider selling him. This would have also meant a couple of other players, Ibrahimovic in particular, would not have found a reason to doubt the clubai??i??s ambitions and seek a move away. Perhaps, just perhaps Milan would have been in the reckoning to restore the European dominance by now.

But all that remains to be nothing more than a subject for unnecessary pensive introspection on the clubai??i??s part. What matters is whatai??i??s at hand and that is a new leader for this fresh group of players having just endured what has been a very testing season by all means. Montolivo cannot possibly solve all the problems that the club is currently facing and he most definitely wonai??i??t. But more than the change of guard, itai??i??s the progressive intent that the club has showed proactively that is suggestive of better things to come in the near future ai??i?? and the near future may actually be closer than anticipated.

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