He's the man destined to fill Andre Pirlo's shoes in the Italian national side, and he's maturing all the time, so what else do Liverpool need to know about Fiorentina's Riccardo Montolivo?
Sometimes you have to take a step back to go forward. This has certainly been the case for Riccardo Montolivo who has been transformed from an attacking midfielder into a deep-lying playmaker (regista).
It was current Italy coach Cesare Prandelli, who at the time was in charge of Fiorentina, who felt that the player lacked sufficient pace to play behind the front-two, but possessed a wide range of passing skills and shrewd reading of the game to exploit space from a withdrawn role.
That was some four years ago and now at 26 the transformation to schemer is almost complete and the former Atalanta graduate has become a mainstay of the Azzurri midfield alongside Andrea Pirlo and Daniele De Rossi – all three played key roles in the midweek win over Northern Ireland.
He is such a composed customer on the ball, with the ability to retain possession, that he is seen as the perfect replacement for Pirlo at international level once the Juventus playmaker’s unerring, raptor passing finally gives out.
In fact, he took over Pirlo’s role at the ill-fated 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa where the weight of expectation laid heavily on the whole squad, but the subsequent criticism following the exit at the group stages he took with admirable stoicism.
He is such a composed customer on the ball, with the ability to retain possession, that he is seen as the perfect replacement for Pirlo at international level.
Tall and physically imposing, Montolivo may not be a fearsome ball-winner but his duties are not confined to a holding role and once in possession he can drive forward incisively before delivering a decisive pass or unleashing a thunderous drive.
His goalscoring record, however, has yet to trouble 20-goal mark from nearly 200 club appearances and just one at international level, coming against Spain in a friendly in August.
Head held high and an elegant mover; it was an innate desire to have the ball at his feet that propelled the Bergamo-born lad through the ranks of his local club to his debut at 18 and an equally stellar parallel career at international level to captain the Italy Under-21s.
A move to Florence in 2005 was soon followed by a call-up to the full international squad two seasons later. However, that lack of natural pace was the square peg in the round hole to completing the photo-fit of a true trequartista and it seemed that he was set to become one of those “if only” players until Prandelli worked his tactical magic.
With greater responsibility came much more solid performances although there were still a few eyebrows raised when such a quietly-spoken soul was handed the captain’s armband. However, he once again did not shrink from his duties and put in some commanding performances even if the Viola struggled following Prandelli’s departure.
His German heritage – on his mother side – has helped mould him into a level-headed character and those less histrionic foundations has ensured that he has kept his feet firmly on the ground and in general away from the shins of opponents.
However, there is a desire to go as far in the game as possible and when it seemed that Fiorentina ambitions had become diluted following their charge to the last-sixteen of the Champions League where they topped their group ahead of Liverpool and Lyon, there was no rush to sign an extension of his contract which expires at the end of the season.
This summer he was linked with a move to AC Milan who had been harking on about signing a Mr X to make their squad complete but ended up with Alberto Aquilani – and like the former Liverpool midfielder he may not be a world-class performer but he has tailored his game to become a more than very adaptable team-man who in the right hands could be an inspirational figure.
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