Through the incidents that occured during Milan – Tottenham I’ll try to catch the essence of the misunderstood player.
How much do you know about Gennaro Gattuso?
He’s a footballer – obviously if you’re reading this you know that much; he’s a World Cup winner – again, if you weren’t born on the 21st century you probably know that too; he’s a two time Champions League winner( you may have caught his heroics on multiple Tuesday or Wednesday nights this century). He’s also a patriotic Italian – you may have noticed how passionately he sings his anthem. But what kind of a player is he? Everybody knows he’s passionate, many would say he’s harsh but fair, however a lot of people would suggest that he’s a dirty player like Materazzi – always looking for trouble with the opposition or getting carded every match for fouling like Marco Tardelli. You watched him on Tuesday night and you saw proof how he was going over the line and starting trouble all over the pitch, or did you?
Graeme Souness called him ‘a dog at best’. Something which couldn’t be further from the truth. Rino is a dog, a pitbull who hunts down the opposition, because he acts like a dog but not in the bad sense of the word – on the contrary. He grew up in the dog-eat-dog world of Calabria. People from social classes like him often don’t learn a lot of manners. They learn how to behave in this world with their conscious. The first rule you learn to avoid getting in to trouble, is to not start trouble. The second rule is if someone causes trouble for you – make sure they never want to cause you trouble again. That is exactly how Ringhio carries himself on the pitch.
All bark and no bite.
Rino is a very emotional character – and vocal too, but his actions are mainly towards the referee and are strictly talk (all bark and no bite). When the going gets rough, he gets rough. Well to be honest he’s pretty rough from the start but he doesn’t deserve a reputation for trying to cause trouble and foul the opposition. He always (as a human being and as a footballer) tries to get the ball. That’s why he is held in such high regard as a defensive midfielder. Steven Gerrard once called him ‘as scary as a kitten’ and I believe the Liverpool captain is right (though it’s an exaggeration of course) But when the opposition starts to put in harsh challenges or fouls, he will respond. Even if the actions are done to his team-mates rather than directly to him – he will respond, because the dog always looks out for his owner.
Now you’re sitting there thinking you can comfortably tell me he acted like a Mad Dog Tuesday, don’t you? Let’s try to look at the game from his point of view?
Starting with what happened to his goalkeeper on Tuesday – One of his best friends in the team (Christian Abbiati), was escorted from the pitch with a neck splint (pitbulls hate neck splints). You and I saw from television that the challenge which resulted the injury was nothing special – it happens all the time, in fact Crouch accidentally had caught Abbiati’s face even before that. No big deal. But Rino might have not seen it, and even if he did it’s hard to judge on the pitch just as the real villain on the night, Mathieu Flamini, was unaware how rough his challenge was asking the reporters if it ‘was really that bad’.
Minor things like Pienaar handling Gattuso also happened frequently in the first half. This is everyday stuff in football – handling the opponent; a few harsh fouls and few elbows will be part of every game. To someone like Gattuso they will start to set the tone. Especially if he sees his keeper taken out on a stretcher and his striker getting fouled near the area and getting elbowed inside the area without receiving any calls from the referee. Meanwhile we all saw how Gattuso was captaining a ship that just wasn’t in the moment – Milan were tedious, slow and unmotivated and beginning to look frustrated.
The breaking point came with Flamini’s tackle on Corluka. The referee couldn’t red card Flamini(who’s nickname is rightfully Mad Dog) possibly since he felt a debt to Milan for the numerous unpunished fouls on Ibra.. Flamini didn’t know how harsh was the challenge and tried to spark his teammates and the crowd who responded by distastefully mobbing an injured player since he was stopping the flow of their momentum. This episode sent the two sides into full out war. There was no ‘let’s get this done as professionally as we can and let the best team win’ anymore. Ringhio(Gattuso’s nickname which means ‘growl’ in Italian) had his teeth out and was ready to bite.
Graham Poll about Peter Crouch ‘He’s a real pain and he’s getting away with too much.’
It’s evident that Milan got a little motivation from their coach at half-time and possibly their captain. As Zlatan describes Gattuso “If I’m relaxing I know that Rino will be behind me giving me the motivation and adrenaline I need. When Rino doesn’t play, the dressing room is silent and nobody talks. But when Rino is there, he talks to everyone and gives everyone the motivation they need. He arrives with an incredible determination. On the field he’s an animal, without him we cannot do it.” So they came out with a new attitude and a little different game plan. Milan came out for a win and started to penetrate Tottenham’s area. Gattuso was comfortably sitting on the backseat dealing with Tottenham counters. Since the pressure was pretty big the Londoners tried to find their tall forward with clearances and he had to face off with Gattuso. The game was built very physical and so both players were as rough as they could while hands came into play as well. So the same elbow that sent Gattuso’s teammate to the hospital found it’s way to his face and it was time to bite. Crouch was not getting away from Rino at San Siro and he let Crouch know how he felt about the tall man’s shenanigans by smacking him back and then shoving him when the Englishmen tried to tell what he thought about it.
Then Joe Jordan interfered to protect his team and since Crouch might not have enough character to take on raving Gattuso(70kg vs 76kg). He was having a go at Gattuso as he entered the pitch. I know you’ll say it was only a yard in but he stepped over a crucial line. An unwelcomed guest entered the dog’s yard. What do pitbulls do in this situation? They hunt down the trespasser and bite them even if they give an inch for teeth to reach. They protect their territory at all costs. It’s not about whether or not the intruder is a senior, or an assistant-coach or a Milan legend(all of which are mildly laughable if you asked me) at that moment.
Gattuso won’t give opponents an inch and that’s what makes him as a player. That’s why Sir Alex Ferguson has admired him so much and should he have succeeded signing him on the summer of 2006. I’m confident the outcome of the AC Milan – Manchester United would have been different. Ferguson had to settle for someone else though, while Rino held back everything you could throw at him. Did you notice United only won the first game after Gattuso had to limp off with an injury (Redknapp also seriously thought about going after him after he managed Rino in one charity match: (“Gattuso was fantastic in the dressing room and, because I was his ‘manager’ on that night against the Rest of the World, I gave it serious thought. But it never quite worked out.”)
What happened after the whistle went was disgraceful. Rino immediatly acknowledged it and apologized. Meanwhile we can’t decide whether it was uncalled for (or not)since we don’t know what words Joe Jordan threw at him. Some might say since he apologized he realized his wrongdoings I should judge him guilty as well but I don’t. I know he felt guilty for losing it and because he let down his team-mates and maybe head butted (hair butted anyone?) Joe Jordan, but does he really regret hitting a guy that was in his face the whole night? Zidane still doesn’t regret his action against Materazzi and it’s not because Rino and Zizou are bad people rather than Zizou’s background on the streets of Marseille Rino’s upcoming in Calabria.
It’s amusing to read how (English) media reported the game. Some sources were using terms like ‘assistant coach’ for him to sound like a general – A status you just don’t touch. Meanwhile do people really think Joe Jordan is a well-mannered assistant to Harry Redknapp? Or is Football Weekly’s comment about his job being mostly to wind up the opposition for 90 minutes closer to the truth?
They tried to give him the status of Milan legend since he helped Milan out of Serie B forgetting that he was in the only team in Milan’s history to be relegated for not getting enough points in the first place. Someone went as far as saying Jordan’s career puts Rino into shame… How is that even
remotely comprehensible? Look at all the titles Rino has won for the Rossoneri and Italy? The comment about him being a Wind up Merchant seem more compatible to me, since what help does he offer to a manager who’s tactics were ‘just run the fuck around’.
Other parts of the media reminded us of Joe Jordan’s glory days. Mostly comprising of how he was one of the dirties players of the game who ran around without his front teeth (though no-one was judging him like Rino now, and allow me to point out that this might happen when you run your mouth too much, though I’m unaware of his exact dental history). He was seen as a player to be afraid of, forgetting that the (self)righteous should not be afraid of anything. They glorify a man who helped Scotland to the World Cup meanwhile forgetting the circumstances of how he did it. He handled the ball in the opposition area and somehow convinced the referee that (rather than him) it was a Wales player’s hand and got a penalty for it. Dirty cheat. Speaking of Crouch, what has he done in the World Cup? He has scored a single goal and managed to do that only by pulling the opposition by the hair. That’s innovative but still a dirty move. What has Rino done for his country? Oh, just won some golden trophy in Berlin. How? With performances that will be highlighted as exemplary to any defensive midfielder for years. When you go down to ten men (Italy vs Australia) playing along with Rino Gattuso at his best is like it’s still 11 vs 11.
What do you say to a kid ora drunken friend who wrestles too much with your dog and ends up bitten? ‘You were asking for it’. Maybe you wouldn’t say that to Joe Jordan given that it wasn’t him which wound up Gattuso himself. The dog wasn’t just mad, he was driven mad. His keeper got hurt, he was manhandled by Pienaar, he was almost stud-tackled by Palacios, he had Van Der Vaart in his ear (shouting something we didn’t hear – but judging from Rino’s gesture it was some nonsense) he was captaining a team that needed to show some grit, he had a tough Scot jump into his face – did you say it was all him?
Everybody called Rino names. Names you wouldn’t give to your dog. Butif you knew the real character of the dog, you’d know it’s not his fault. It’s the owner or in this case the circumstances. I’m not trying to justify Rino’s actions, because eventually he stepped over the line too, but I’m trying to make his actions understandable. Next time you see Rino play, look if he’s stirring things up or is it the other way round. Next time you see Joe Jordan on the sideline, watch to see if he’s advising Redknapp or just looking for a way to provoke the opposition. Next time you see Peter Crouch go for a header watch where his hands are – he’s always climbing on the other guy and it isn’t the ordinary fight for the ball you see in modern football, it’s his trademark foul. And next time you hear Souness speak, ask yourself ‘how do his words match up with his actions on the pitch.
Dogs like to play and wrestle, and just like a dog Gattuso does too. He’s your biggest friend, and your most loyal ally. He will stick with you through thick and thin. David Beckham describes him with these words “Gattuso is the biggest character I’ve ever played with. How you perceive him on the pitch is exactly how he is. Before coming to Milan I’d played against him a few times – and he’s definitely one of those guys who you just never want to face. He’s a player you always want on your team. He’s like Roy Keane used to be at United. He’s such a character. And he’s not just like that for one or two days – he’s like it every day of every week. It’s characters like that who make a team.” Pets also make Becks laugh: “He is always at Milanello, and he never wastes an opportunity to joke around, especially with Pato, and a player like him is fundamental in the dressing room. No one makes me laugh like he does.”
Becks also saw him as fair but irritating when he talks about his debut as England captain – a match decided by Gattuso’s goal: “He told me not to dive in the box because we weren’t in a swimming pool. We both remembered this incident. Rino is a player that you do not like much when he is your opponent, as he can be irritating. He is always on you, and doesn’t allow you to do much. I will always remember that match, not only because of Gattuso, but also because it was my first game as England captain.” Gattuso carried the weight of captaincy as well and though some may want to see him stripped of vice-captaincy (Milan’s first choice is Ambrosini at the moment) it’s the manager’s decision who said following:”No, I never thought to take away the captaincy because he took responsibility. He made a mistake but his career shows what a player he is and what man he is. After the game he apologized to the team, to me, and teammates, also remember that he finished the game with 12 stitches in his knee: Rino deserves the armband.”
I know Gattuso. I probably know him better than you. I watch him play every weekend and I can even recognize him just from his running style. My judgment on him is not based on some basic prejudice of Italian footballe or classical defensive midfielders who are expected to play dirty – though my opinion might be clouded by the colours I hold dear to my heart. I don’t know every detail of his life but above everything I’m confident I know the most important thing – how he thinks. Simply because I think in the same way. He starts the game with a spark that is meant to light up his team while it can turn into an inferno. That’s the only way players like him can be – they are on the edge all the time. As H. S. Thompson puts it “The edge, there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over” meaning you don’t get Roy Keane’s dragging captaincy without the occasional red card resulting offence. You don’t get a Maradona without him going balloons once in a while. Gattuso once told Steve Nash ‘if he doesn’t play like a madman he’s Serie C material.’
Maldini is my hero for being perfect – a man very few could be. Rino is a guy like you or me – he’s a Milan fan himself. One of us – RINO UNO DI NOI.
Thank you for your time. I encourage you to watch following videos as well.