Gennaro Gattuso is one of a small number of extraordinary players who are never quite appreciated until they get injured or suspended. There is nothing glamorous about Gattuso nor is there Coach who would turn him down. He is his team’s drive, their passion and their commitment – the fans’ ambition embodied. Now at the age of 31, Gattuso is a World Cup winner, holds two Champions League medals and has a Serie A title to his name. He has played for the Azzurri 69 times scoring just one goal, a 30-yard strike against England in November 2000. He won 21 Azzurrini caps and was part of the team that won the European Under-21 Championship in 2000, a side from which many would go on to win the World Cup together six years later.
Gennaro Gattuso is one of a small number of extraordinary players who are never quite appreciated until they get injured or suspended. There is nothing glamorous about Gattuso nor is there a Coach who would turn him down. He is his team’s drive, their passion and their commitment – the fans’ ambition embodied. Now at the age of 31, Gattuso is a World Cup winner, holds two Champions League medals and has a Serie A title to his name. He has played for the Azzurri 69 times scoring just one goal, a 30-yard strike against England in November 2000. He won 21 Azzurrini caps and was part of the team that won the Under-21 European Championship in 2000, a side from which many would go on to win the World Cup together six years later.
Gattuso, like many other similar players, started out as an unused substitute at Perugia. What little taste of Serie A he was given served only to drive his own aspirations to achieve greatness. Two seasons, and just 10 first team appearances, and Gattuso was ready to move on and give himself a better chance. A transfer up to Scotland proved most wise. Flourishing under the leadership of Walter Smith, Gattuso and Rangers appeared a perfect match. He developed his fierce tenacity whilst mastering his own game, breaking opposition play up and driving his team forward. His style is crafted from the tough and unforgiving Scottish league and there can be little doubt that he would not be the player he is today was it not for his season in Glasgow. With Dick Advocaat came a change in Rangers’ play with little room for the Italian. He soon moved back to Serie A, this time with newly promoted Salernitana.
Once again, Gattuso made the most of his opportunity. Impressing in an otherwise lacklustre outfit, he began to draw attention to his performances. At Salernitana, he was given consistent football against the players he had longed to play against. Big tackles and tireless running, traits now synonymous with the midfielder, marked out Gattuso as ready for greater things. Just one season in and the relegated southern side could do little to hold on to their starlet. At the beginning of the 1999/00 season, Gennaro Gattuso signed for the club that would define his career, Milan. The Rossoneri paid around £8 million to create a midfield partnership now respected by all at international and club level – Andrea Pirlo and Gattuso. Since signing, he has played 399 games for the club winning just about everything available to him. It is here where Gattuso’s game can be analysed at its finest.
His nickname, Ringhio, literally translates as snarl – ‘The Snarler.’ Never has a nickname been so appropriate, as rarely does a smile decorate the face of the midfielder. He moves from challenge to challenge quickly and efficiently, wherever he is needed to help his side: the definition of a team player. Gattuso’s game is founded on his work-rate, exemplified by his tackling and facilitated by his stamina. His contribution to the side is most noticeable as the destroyer of opposition attacks. This is an art so commonly essential to the greatest modern teams – Claude Makelele, Gilberto Silva and Javier Mascherano just three significant exponents of the position. These terrific players, of which Gattuso is undoubtedly one – have the most disciplined role on the pitch. It involves reading the game beyond the level of their opponent, sensing danger where there appears to be none and covering their teammates when most needed. They allow the players who are exceptional with the ball to have it for a larger percentage of the time. Often paired with a great passer, Coaches carefully equip their team to turn defence into attack.
Gattuso stands out from the rest with his fiery temperament. It gives him an edge that makes opponents wary – unsettling them before the game has even begun. This is, of course, a reputation built up over years at the cost of suspensions, fines, fights and friends, but when Gennaro Gattuso steps onto the pitch, seldom do you feel he would not do it all again. There is a bitter side to the man that allows him to enjoy the nastier side of the game. It is that wonderfully divisive talent that so few have.
All of these characteristics mean one vital thing for Gattuso’s game, something that has enabled him to achieve all that he has done – consistency. Every Milan fan can be certain that Ringhio will give them everything for 90 minutes, every week. In the Rossoneri team he illustrates the role defined above with unfaltering reliability. He is their ball winner. Importantly, once he gets it, it is rarely lost. Gattuso ensures the ball is moved sharply to his teammates, most commonly Pirlo. Possession is continued up the field and, when lost, the team know that inevitably Gattuso will be there to pick up the pieces. Any spectator of the Italian will soon realise that this comes at any cost, tackle, trip, push or grab, never violent, but gamesmanship at its best. Rarely will the opponents advance without Gattuso attempting to halt them. His partnership with Pirlo, and their ever-presence together for club and country, sees Gattuso’s role often unchanged for his nation. The Azzurri’s tactics mean they must both alter their positioning but never their game.
The lack of attention paid to Gattuso’s ability on the ball so far is only testament to his teamwork. It must not be forgotten that he is still a fabulous footballer. He does the simple things well, something which is often so quickly overlooked. His passes are always accurate but rarely adventurous. His main talent with the ball at his feet is retention. By nature, his game involves being close to players so when he gets it they are inevitably nearby. However, Gattuso has a tremendous ability to keep the ball, moving around the players that surround him and moving the ball on. Underpinning this is his speed and most particularly his acceleration. He can effortlessly avoid most advances with his pace and outstanding strength. This is part of the reason that Ringhio can move to the right-side of midfield without too much hassle, however, this does reduce his effectiveness even if it does demonstrate his adaptability. Typically of a player of his position, Gattuso’s goals are uncommon and far apart. Nonetheless, when he does strike his goals are often exceptional and are generally from outside the box.
For any World Cup winner, the career highlight will always be that moment. And Gattuso was such an integral part of the Italian side throughout the 2006 tournament, that he was ultimately named in the team of tournament. With Milan, he has won nearly all existing club trophies so his highlights are as frequent as they are outstanding, and as he still has a career ahead of him he will surely be hungry for more. Quite simply Gennaro Gattuso is a remarkable player however you look at it. To his opponents he is the enemy personified, to his fans he is the hero. His talent is matched by his trophy collection, so often a failing of the greatest players. He is vital to his club and country but is consistent under such pressure. He is the passionate, ferocious and irrepressible player that every fan wants for their team. Perhaps most brilliantly of all, he is the player you always said you would hate, but cannot resist loving.
Past Lessons in Calcio
Alessandro Del Piero