A crucial win away against Brescia and Milan are inches away from being crowned Serie A Champions. Adriano Galliani believes much of their success lies in their clever transfer dealings over the winter saying: “If we hadn’t made those signings in January, we would not be eight points clear with four rounds to go.” Whilst the young midfielders have brought pace and tenacity, and Antonio Cassano has offered a new dimension with regards to unlocking defences, it is surely Van Bommel’s purchase that deserves the highest amount of praise.
Deployed in what is usually Andrea Pirlo’s role, sitting just in front of the defence, Van Bommel has been massively important. Master tackler, his terrifying presence and ability to read the game has ensured that since Pirlo’s injury, suffered in early February, Milan have only conceded four goals in Serie A. Boasting impeccable tactical awareness, Van Bommel knows exactly how to read a game to stop the opponents from playing. Against Juventus, he broke up play incessantly and understanding their penchant for a quick-counter-attack, he used whatever means necessary to stop them taking off. Meanwhile against Inter he tracked Wesley Sneijder admirably, to lessen the Dutchman’s effect on the game, whilst delivering passes to the wings, aware of the Nerazzurri’s narrow style of play. His enjoyment at stretching the Inter midfield whilst creating havoc in the middle, allowed the Rossoneri to win the midfield battle and thus go on to score three. Moreover, he managed all this despite being the most fouled player in the Milan side according to whoscored.com.
Defensively, Van Bommel offers the kind of stability Milan have been craving these past couple of years, and he has granted the creative players within the side the opportunity to roam freely around the pitch initiating attacks. Against Fiorentina, Clarence Seedorf was the hero for the night as he created countless goal-scoring opportunities. However, without the defensive work of Van Bommel against the opponent’s high tempo pressing game, Seedorf would not have been able to push up and indulge in his offensive capabilities as much as he was.
Brought in due to a midfield emergency, Van Bommel’s purchase has proved to be a genius move. He possess a stronger physical presence than Pirlo, and this stops opponents dead in their tracks and in comparison to Massimo Ambrosini, he boasts greater technical skill allowing him to direct the midfield in a more composed manner, delivering important passes to contribute to the squad’s attacking game. Furthermore his experience and ability to lead have proved vital, especially in those first matches played in a Rossoneri jersey. Frequently seen directing play and shouting out instructions, his teammates listen to him and respect him because he is a player who will do what it takes to win a match and if it takes a dirty tackle, then he will happily oblige. He was once quoted as saying: “Yes I do the dirty work. So what? A football team cannot have 11 ballerinas.”
His reluctance to give up and his determination are attributes of a champion who has gathered a wealth of experience abroad – winning seven league titles, in three different countries. If Milan win the Scudetto, it will be eight titles in four different countries. Yet despite his aggressive manner on the pitch, it is the player’s calm demeanour and humble behaviour off it that has seen him become a fan favourite. In a recent survey carried out by calciomercato.com, Milan fans were asked which midfield player could be allowed to leave this summer. Most voters chose Pirlo whilst Van Bommel received the fewest votes suggesting he is considered untouchable by the fans and it is likely the Milan management feel the same.