One of the many upsides to having Fiorentina midfielder Riccardo Montolivo in your pocket is the assurance that you will never be in need of rubber bands. (Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images)
I'm not known as someone that has a great deal of affection for Serie A. There's a history of unpleasantness and corruption that's surpassed by few (if any) leagues the world over and though things are certainly better now that at times in the past, some doubts of course remain. On top of all of that, the three teams that have dominated the league for years - Inter Milan, AC Milan and Juventus - are incredibly boring. It's not necessarily fair, but that reputation has carried down throughout the league and only now with Napoli's rise towards the top of the table are some people beginning to reexamine their prejudices.
There was a long period of time where I largely ignored Serie A, but I've realized lately that I'd been depriving myself of some pretty excellent football. I don't think I will ever have a vested emotional interest in Italian football - most certainly not to the degree that I do with the Premier League and Aston Villa - but I can enjoy Serie A in a largely detached and appreciative way, which has been to my benefit. And while I would stop well short of claiming to support any Italian clubs, I tend to gravitate more towards some than others. I'll generally pull for Napoli, Palermo, Genoa and Sampdoria (because not being a supporter means you are free to ignore rivalry) but if asked to name a favorite it would easily be Fiorentina. I'd like to say that there are deep, meaningful reasons for this but in reality it comes down to two main factors; their purple kits and Riccardo Montolivo.
Strikers get the goals and the glory, defenders wear the armbands of their national teams but playmaking midfielders will always be my favorites and those of the deep-lying variety are the best of all. Montolivo is what is referred to in Italy as a regista which is, not coincidentally the same term used for film directors, and to watch one work is a thrilling experience. Operating from the space in the midfield more typically occupied by a defensive midfielder, the regista is expected to disrupt the opposition's build-up, but more importantly he is responsible for dictating the flow of the attack from the moment it begins. A deep-lying playmaker operates from box to box, but seldom joins the attack as a scoring threat. To be successful in the role a player must be tactically astute, sound defensively, capable of reading the game from all angles and adept at passing in every sense. A talented regista is just as capable of winning a ball in his own final-third and sending a long ball to a streaking forward on the counter as he is of settling his team into a patient buildup.
Riccardo Montolivo does all of these things as well as any other deep-lying playmaker in the world and is widely considered to be the heir to Andrea Pirlo's role as chief creative force for the Azzuri. He is capable of making the best defenders in the world look absolutely foolish with the ball at his feet, the most improbable through passes look like a foregone conclusion and whichever foot the goalkeeper happens to be on the wrong one. A peerless vision to read the game, the ability to make something out of nothing, a booming right foot and a massive helping of the bravado required to even consider making the half of the passes he makes that leave opposing defenders flat-footed add up to Riccardo Montolivo being the player I would most like to have in my pocket.
Now if only he came in claret and blue.