Riccardo Montolivo: Why the Italian Midfielder Is so Important to AC Milan

Matteo Bonetti@@TheCalcioGuyContributor IMarch 5, 2013

MILAN, ITALY - NOVEMBER 25:  Riccardo Montolivo of AC Milan shouts to his team mates during the Serie A match between AC Milan and Juventus FC at San Siro Stadium on November 25, 2012 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

Riccardo Montolivo joined Milan last summer from Fiorentina as a replacement for the departing Alberto Aquilani, who never really fit in. It's fair to say the former Viola captain joined the Rossoneri without the highest of expectations. However, he has been one of the brightest surprises of the season for Milan, bossing the midfield and becoming a central figure in the club's recent surge of form.

This wasn't always the case. Throughout his career, Montolivo drew just as many skeptics as fans, as his inconsistent play was deemed the reason for his failure to make the jump to superstardom. 

Growing up in the youth ranks of Atalanta, he was pegged for greatness after displaying a maturity far beyond his years in the 2003-2004 season, when he played 41 matches at the tender age of 18.

His skills didn't go unnoticed by other Serie A teams, and Fiorentina made the move to acquire him, along with Giampaolo Pazzini—Riccardo's current teammate at Milan as well as two other clubs.

Montolivo hit his career high note with Fiorentina under the tutelage of Cesare Prandelli, who enjoyed one of the finest Viola seasons in recent history as they reached the last 16 of the Champions League but lost in heartbreaking fashion to Bayern Munich.

What's interesting about Montolivo is that despite being 28 years old he still doesn't have a fixed position. At Milan, he was deployed as either an Andrea Pirlo-esque deep-lying playmaker, or a mezz'ala, which is a side midfielder in coach Max Allegri's 4-3-3 formation. 

On the Italian national team, Cesare Prandelli (who knows him very well from their time at Fiorentina) insists on playing Montolivo behind the strikers in a trequartista role. He had plenty of success in this position at the Euro 2012 competition, where he linked up beautifully with the likes of Mario Balotelli and Antonio Cassano.

However, Milan President Silvio Berlusconi wants him slotted further back in the formation, where Montolivo can spray long balls to Milan's pacy frontline.

During their first league meeting against Juventus this season, Montolivo outshone Andrea Pirlo, the player he has been compared to recently, despite Riccardo claiming that their skill set is very different.

Even more incredibly, Montolivo stood out in Milan's recent Champions League triumph against Barcelona, as he faced arguably the greatest midfield in world football.

His new box-to-box style of play has captivated the hearts of Milan fans as he has quickly established himself as one of the favorites among the Curva Sud, with his tireless work off the ball and impressive technique on it. 

When he hasn't played, the lack of quality has shown. Suddenly, strikers aren't receiving balls in open space, and the midfield seems to run out of ideas very quickly. 

For a player who has been considered too subtle at times, he has been anything but in the most important matches of the season for Milan, showing that he can be considered an able creative midfielder for a team with Champions League aspirations.