Even though it wasn’t fatal to Italy’s survival in Euro 2012, Riccardo Montolivo has been made to relive the moment he drilled his penalty wide in Sunday’s quarter-final against England.
It has caught the media’s imagination because there’s something rather curious about his boots: there’s a German flag printed on one and an Italian one on the other.
Establishing which featured on the right foot he used to take the spot-kick has become a light-hearted matter of importance before Thursday’s eagerly anticipated semi-final with Germany.
It couldn’t possibly have been the German flag, could it? Not with their reputation in shootouts. Few were surprised then when it emerged that it was the Italian tricolour after all.
Asked to explain his eye-catching choice of footwear, Montolivo reminded everyone that it’s in honour of his parents’ different heritages.
Montolivo’s mother Antje is German. She hails from Kiel in the northerly state of Schleswig-Holstein and met her husband, the Italian Marcello, at a college in the English county of Kent in 1972.
They live in Italy and have brought up their two sons there. But Antje has never let them forget their roots on her side of the family.
Reached by Il Corriere della Sera on Tuesday, she revealed that not only does Riccardo have two passports, “he speaks perfectly in German too because since he was a child I addressed him in my mother tongue.”
Every summer until he was 15, Montolivo went on holiday to Kiel for a month and a half, and visited his uncle Jochen. “I have great memories of those years,” he said, “and still have many friends.”
It’s worth pausing here to play a game of ‘what if’, especially considering how, after Germany’s failure at Euro 2000, the FA went about reforming its structures.
Citizenship laws were liberalized and the FA had no qualms whatsoever about integrating a number of talented players from migratory backgrounds with dual nationality.
Within that context, it’s not too much of a stretch of the imagination to think that, had Montolivo been overlooked by Italy and come to the attention of Germany, he might well have been playing for them instead on Thursday night, provided of course that he beat off the competition for his position.
In reality, however, Montolivo has long been committed to Italy and has represented them from Under-15 level onwards. His loyalty is not divided. “I feel 90% Italian,” he explained, “and I love the blue shirt.”
Earmarked as a player with a great future ahead of him when coming through the ranks at Atalanta as a teenager, Montolivo, now 27, has yet to really fulfil his promise.
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli has always had great faith in his ability owing to the time that they worked together at Fiorentina.
Mired in their problems and stripped of the captaincy last year after expressing his intention not to sign an extension on his contract, which expired this summer, maybe his move to AC Milan will inspire him to take the next step and realize his potential.
“My mission for Italy and Milan in the years to come will be this: to chase away the doubts around me,” Montolivo insisted.
He definitely divides opinion. Take his performance against England for instance. La Repubblica gave Montolivo a 5.5, La Gazzetta dello Sport a 7, and Il Corriere della Sera a 5.5.
For what it’s worth, his task is one of the toughest on the team, defined as indefinable. Prandelli has taken to playing Montolivo in what the papers are calling “Il finto trequartista”: the false No.10.
“I am a wide central midfielder, a No 8, not a trequartista. Prandelli has instead chosen to play me in that position, but he has asked that I do a different job while I’m there and that in effect is to be a central midfielder. It’s a delicate and difficult role to interpret.”
Many think that, by playing behind the strikers, Montolivo [or Thiago Motta] is a classic playmaker and should be expected to play as such, but that’s to labour under a misapprehension.
Italy’s midfield is a magic square, it rotates, with each of the four men swapping positions so there are no reference points. Why do you think England couldn’t get anywhere near Andrea Pirlo?
The well-rounded nature of Montolivo’s game mean that he is capable of playing this multi-faceted role even if it leaves some with the impression that he’s a Jack of all trades and a master of none.
“I am satisfied with my performance against England,” he said. Penalty miss aside, he’s justified in feeling that way. Montolivo certainly did show some nice sides to his game, particularly when he clipped a reverse pass through for Mario Balotelli in the first half.
Now it’s onto Germany. “It’s a special game for me,” Montolivo claims. One might expect emotions to be running high. Then again, perhaps they won’t. “I have a few German character traits – maybe my coolness… But not while taking penalties.”
Give credit where it’s due, Montolivo insists that he won’t shirk from stepping up once more should Thursday’s semi-final go to a shootout.
“If the situation arises I will take a penalty again. Only people who never take them never miss,” he said. Either that or the takers are German, though fans of Bayern Munich, still reeling after losing the Champions League final to Chelsea from the spot, might of course beg to differ.