The De Sciglio of TranquilityPosted: April 13, 2013
A search for a modern full back who excels in both attacking and defending yields few results. The worldwide desire for attacking football, although not universally recognised at the highest levels, dictates that most full backs are converted wingers, who do not have the attacking prowess to make it further forward, but have use further back. Alternatively, they are reared under the idea that a full back’s main purpose is to be an attacking outlet, and so defending is focussed on less. As a result, there are far more of Glen Johnson’s ilk than of Philipp Lahm’s.
Ignazio Abate is far more similar to the former, although he is significantly better. He is a good right back who has the ability to add another level of threat to AC Milan’s attack when he is on form, while being defensively okay, if fallible under pressure. As if Milan did not have enough problems at the season’s start – especially in the defence – he suffered an ankle injury which led to him missing a few of their opening games.
There was little to smile about during Milan’s 1-0 home loss to Sampdoria on the season’s opening day. Daniele Bonera, Mario Yepes and Robinho all started; the misery of the Milanisti seemed to have osmosed itself onto the sandy mess of the San Siro pitch and the team appeared to have nothing that could change that. Only the 20 year old right back, fittingly just rewarded with the number 2 shirt, provided any relief from the negativity. His exemplary positioning, intelligent runs and eye-catching crosses were a patch of well-mown green on a muddy potato field.
Mattia De Sciglio understands more than most the “importance” of wearing the number 2 for Milan, and has spoken of his wish to follow in the path left for him by Mauro Tassotti and Cafù. He grew up in Rozzano, a small town in the Province of Milan, just a 20 minute drive from San Siro. A lifelong Milan supporter, his youth was filled, like so many others’, with dreams of representing them and emulating his idol Paolo Maldini.
When he turned 10 he joined the Milan academy. He rose through every team in every age bracket before being included in the first team squad and making his debut at the age of 18 last season. His numerical movement at the start of this year was the start of his greater involvement in the first team.
He is the poster boy for Adriano Galliani’s ‘Project Youth’ (also known as ‘Operation: Oh Shit, We Have No Money’) both on and off the pitch, to a greater degree than the fantastic Stephan El Shaarawy given longer-standing ties to the club.
The aforementioned injury to Abate and loss to Sampdoria, along with with games against Bologna and Anderlecht were his initial breakthrough. An injury to Luca Antonini opened up time for him to showcase his ability at left back as and when he was needed there, while Abate himself was in and out of fitness. The circumstances had conspired to give him a chance to give him a run in the first team far earlier than even he could have hoped, but not once has he looked scared, out-of-place or overawed. In the difficult early months, he and El Shaarawy gave some early encouragement to the new-found belief in youth.
De Sciglio is a distinctive figure on the ball. He has the height of a centre back, the breadth of a flagpole and an odd, but graceful running style which allows him to cover ground very quickly. His standout quality is his calmness, especially for someone of his age. His having started out as a centre back is evident in his exceptional reading of the game, tackling and aerial strength. It is rare to see him slide into tackles. He specialises in the standing challenge; his ambidexterity means he is comfortable enough to lead into them with either foot. He is a fantastic defender in the making.
He has stated that he prefers to play on the left-hand side, which allows him to cut in onto his favoured right foot when further forward, although I am of the belief that he is stronger at right back. The few times he has been caught out and made errors – examples of this were his being drawn inside for Luis Fabiano’s first goal in his first game for the Italian National team (though that error excepted, he was excellent) and penalty he conceded in the 2-2 draw at Fiorentina – have come when he has been on the left side. At this point, he adds greater attacking threat on the right side, with his deliveries on that foot being better than with his left.
These errors remain firmly in the memory because they were such rarities. His self-assurance, despite his mere 36 professional games for club and country, is astounding. His aptitude and tranquil nature are made even more impressive by the defences he has had alongside him. Having any combination of Philippe Mexès, Yepes, Bonera and Cristián Zapata next to you is not something that would fill any sane individual with mounds of confidence, but he has defied them.
He has shown great promise going forward, too; the most noticeable facet of this being his brilliant crossing. He has been Milan’s fourth highest chance creator this season, but the presence he adds – or, more accurately, should add more – in this area is the closest thing to a weakness in his game. It must be said that, like his comfort on his weaker foot, this has noticeably improved through the season. While being a primarily defensive player, he is good in attack, but does not add the same threat as someone like Abate just yet. That being said, if the swift improvement he has shown in his attacking this season continues, it will not be long before he conquers his counterpart in yet another department.
The greatest testament to De Sciglio’s rise, more so than his rise from novice to the Azzurri in just 7 months, was the Abate to Zenit St. Petersburg deal in January that eventually never actually happened. The fact that Milan were willing to sell the 26 year old and trust De Sciglio to be their first choice right back, with the arriving Cristian Zaccardo as his backup, says all it needs to about how highly he is regarded at Milanello.
Quite shockingly, the young, talented, Italian, lifelong-Milan-supporting defender has been labelled as the ‘New Paolo Maldini’ by some. The comparison helps no one, in reality but, like his hero, De Sciglio may join the pantheon of one club men. His best performances have come in the Milan derby and in the win at home to Juventus, as well as having a very strong game overall against Brazil – he holds no fear of any opposition. And he has no reason to do so.
His mature style translates to his wider being. There is often an inherent danger in indulging a young player in excessive praise while he still has so much to learn, though De Sciglio remains level-headed and grounded, eager to improve and aware of his own potential. He is in the perfect environment to thrive: Milan are providing a platform for young players and hold great belief in him. He is a phenomenal talent; at a time when so few in his position are really capable in both attacking and defending, he stands out as an exception to this already.
And who knows, in 20 years time, maybe the 2 will join the 3 and the 6.