‘About time too’ seemed to be the general consensus after Milan right-back Ignazio Abate was called up to the Italian national squad by Cesare Prandelli last Sunday for the upcoming games against Poland and Uruguay.
Abate is all set to earn his first Azzurri cap too with a starting place when Italy play in Wroclaw tonight, a day before his 25th birthday. The sensational form the Rossoneri youth product has displayed down the flanks for his club in the last 12 months has fully merited his call up and his snub until that point had mystified many Milanisti.
As expected, the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva took many of the plaudits after Milan’s Scudetto winning season for their respective contributions in delivering a first league title since 2004. But it was Abate, the man who remarkably made his Milan debut way back in 2003, along with Christian Abbiati, who were arguably the Diavoli’s two most consistent performers. The Rossoneri lost on just three occasions in all competitions when Abate started (31 times) and the blond bombshell was a key part of the defence which conceded 24 goals in Serie A all season.
The Campania native’s impressive form and blistering pace has resulted in a meteoric rise to become arguably Milan’s best right-back since Cafu’s time at the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza. Abate was loaned out as a right winger to several clubs in the mid-to-late-noughties including Napoli, playing in Serie C at the time, Piacenza and Modena in Serie B, and then suffering the painful experience of two successive relegations from Serie A with Empoli and Torino before Leonardo brought him back to Milanello in 2009.
However, Abate believes he is no stop gap for Italy having shown promise when tested at right-back under Leonardo, which continued into excellence under Massimilliano Allegri. This view comes despite Prandelli previously calling up Davide Santon and Lorenzo Di Silvestri ahead of him and adding an assertion that he needs to develop a greater consistency to his game to displace Christian Maggio and Mattia Cassani from their respective places in the national team.
The use of ‘consistency’ raised some eyebrows, but perhaps the word Prandelli meant to say was ‘contribution’. The stats show that Abate is behind Maggio and Cassani in terms of delivering in the final third of the field while his defensive record at Milan, last year at least, was considerably better than that of his counterparts at Napoli and in Cassani’s case, previous club Palermo.
In Abate’s last two and a bit seasons (his current spell with Milan), he has contributed just three assists and no goals in the league. These stats compare unfavourably in the same period with Maggio, 11 goals and nine assists, Cassani, no goals but eight assists, and Maicon, right-back at city rivals Inter, who has amassed an incredible eight goals and 21 assists.
One would think Abate’s game can only improve playing in a back four with Alessandro Nesta and Thiago Silva, and under Assistant Coach, Rossoneri legend Mauro Tassotti, who similarly waited years for his international debut. It’s no secret that an injury to Cassani has given Milan’s current marauding right-back his long awaited opportunity for an Italy starting shirt. Now it’s over to Abate to ignite up and down the Azzurri right.