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Wednesday February 10 2021
Calabria's impressive development

Davide Calabria was once again among Milan’s best players in their 4-0 win against Crotone and Fabio De Dominicis explains what’s behind the development of the 24-year-old.

Rewind to the summer of 2017. Subdued optimism surrounded the red half of Milan following the Rossoneri’s sixth-place finish in the league – their highest in four years.

Vincenzo Montella’s reward was a contract extension, while also being handfed new players like a kid being treated in a candy store as an extreme squad overhaul was conducted by the newly-appointed Massimiliano Mirabelli and Marco Fassone.

Among the 11 new signings that off-season was 23-year-old Andrea Conti. The right-back, who had played an integral part in helping his Atalanta side achieve a top four finish and had two months prior won his first Azzurri cap, was set to become a mainstay in the Milan defence, with his reported €27m deal making him, at the time, the second-most expensive Italian defender behind Alessandro Nesta.

He’d hold that title for just seven days before Leonardo Bonucci’s ill-fated one-year spell as his teammate at San Siro pushed him down that lucrative list.

With Mattia De Sciglio swapping the red stripes on his shirt for trophy-laden white ones instead, Conti’s pathway to a certain starting berth seemed as clear as day.

Standing in his way was aging stalwart Ignazio Abate and a 20-year-old Davide Calabria, still proving his worth after being promoted from the youth sector in 2015, with just 14 Serie A starts to his name.

Yet just a month after signing, disaster struck for Conti as he suffered a cruciate ligament injury which would rule him out for the rest of the season, and the first half of the next.

Neither Abate nor Calabria would cement their spot on the right side of defence during the star signing’s injury absence as both were used interchangeably, along with a sprinkling of Fabio Borini when the system and coach in charge saw fit.

Promising youngster Calabria would however enjoy the majority of game-time across the 2018-19 season.

His 22 league starts – the highest in his career to date – meant he was the preferred option at right-back, yet was still raw and error-prone, and had done little to convince the club of his long-term reliance in that position.

Despite whispers of a possible departure, and even with Conti fully fit, Calabria started last season as the first-choice right-back, but did himself no favours in earning two disciplinary suspensions – a red card and accumulation of five yellow cards – in just the first eight matches of the campaign, as those early whispers turned into murmurings, and then fully-fledged discussions.

It made sense: Conti had been brought in with big money and had yet to live up to his potential due to injury, whileas a product of the Milan youth system, Calabria would represent a sizeable capital gain should he be sold.

Clubs in Spain were reportedly showing interest, and with the youngster’s sporadic and inconsistent showings, where he was at fault for several costly errors and lapses in concentration, he seemed destined to depart his boyhood club.

As a diehard Milanista though, having been at the club since the age of 10, Calabria refused, and vowed to fight for his place.

In a Serie A clash last July while trailing 1-0 against Parma – the team the injury-prone defender would coincidentally join half a year later – a miserable first-half performance saw Conti hauled off at the break, and replaced by Calabria in what in hindsight can be viewed as a literal changing of the guard.

Calabria would start, and even score, three days later in a 5-1 thumping of Bologna, yet was surprisingly back on the bench in Milan’s next encounter as Conti made the starting line-up against Sassuolo.

Yet just ten minutes into the clash against, Conti had to be substituted due to injury in what would be his final league start in a red and black shirt.

Since that 2-1 victory over the Neroverdi last summer, Calabria has been a player transformed, starting every single Serie A game to date.

Having worked off his youthful immaturity, the 24-year-old is now a vital cog in the Milan machine, churning out stellar performances on a weekly basis as he commands the right flank on both ends of the pitch.

Reading the situation well while taking up good defensive positions when his side are under threat, he has improved his tactical awareness and ability to track back – a common fault he was called out for in his younger days.

Always keen to contribute to the attack, he is often seen bombing up the pitch, his overlapping runs ensuring his opposite number is kept at bay.

His forward forays have been rewarded with an assist and two goals so far this season, including a wondrous strike in January’s 3-1 loss to Juventus in a match where he further proved his worth. With Sandro Tonali suspended, Ismael Bennacer injured and Rade Krunic out with COVID-19, Calabria was fielded in an unfamiliar central midfield position, showcasing his versatility and commitment to the team.

As Milan’s most-used player in the league so far this season, the 24-year-old has averaged 3.6 tackles per game, winning more tackles than any other player in the Milan team – notably ten more than highly-rated teammate on the opposite flank, Theo Hernandez.

He has also produced the most blocks of all his teammates, while averaging an impressive 1.3 interceptions and 2.1 clearances per match.

The ever-improving defender admits to previous distractions, but is delighted with his current form under influential coach Stefano Pioli.

Today against Crotone he was once again among Milan’s best players on the pitch, even if he is going to be suspended for the next match against Spezia.

The 24-year-old was one yellow card away from suspension and was booked against the Sharks. At least, he won’t take the risk of missing the following Serie A clash against Inter.  

“I put behind me what was bothering me to focus only on football and this has helped me and the whole team because we are all doing very well,” he said earlier this season.

 “It’s really important to play with a clear mind. The coach has shown his trust in me, allowed me to play more offensively and we are all seeing the results of this and I hope we can continue like this.”

Calabria was rewarded for his efforts with a first national team appearance in November last year, and while it might take some doing to topple Alessandro Florenzi as the Azzurri’s first-choice right-back, his recent performances are doing little to damage his chances of travelling to this summer’s European Championships as a more than capable back-up.

A contract extension with the Rossoneri is reportedly on the horizon, with the hard-working defender set to double his wages – just reward for both his loyalty and the immense effort made in improving as a player over the last year, just months after the exit door had seemed more of a probability than a possibility.

He is far from being Milan’s star, yet Rossoneri fans can all agree that Calabria’s impressive performances have made an immense impact in helping his side to their current position at the summit of Serie A, as he continues to run his heart out for his boyhood club.

@fabiodedoms

Have your say...
I have watched Milan every game this season Calabria has been simply outstanding....what a change before Pioli came as Milan coach he was useless in attack and useless in defence....now he is so good in both phases and he looks so much stronger then what he use to be.

If Milan start selling their best players then they will never be top club again they should keep the best ones and add one or 2 good players every year.

Italy should play spinazzola on the left and Calabria in the right
on the 9th February, 2021 at 7:18pm
ones you watch every week. If they change every week you are watching a different team every week. There's no connection. And that is exactly the sort of thing that leads to a disconnection on the pitch. This constant search for world class players and rating players like it's some kind of talent contest is what makes the whole thing so superficial. We won titles with Gattuso, Brocchi and Ambrosini. None of them were world class.
on the 8th February, 2021 at 10:24pm
We can't undo the mistakes of the past but we can learn from them. Calabria needs to remain at the club for the rest of his career and needs to be a point of reference for any new player joining. We need that continuity and we need that identity.

@ACM1899 - This is the exact issue I have. Why would you want to sell him in 4 years like he's some property you want to flip? This is the problem with modern football. A football club is more than just some brand name. The players matter. They're the
on the 8th February, 2021 at 10:10pm
Calabria is one of a core of players that came through alongside Locatelli and Cutrone. Alongside Donnarumma and Romagnoli, they could have provided a foundation to the team for the next decade. It didn't matter that Cutrone was not world class, he was no worse than Massaro or Simone. The key is he could've been our sub-striker for the next 10 years whilst Milan focus on signing a Haaland (not Haaland, A Haaland i.e. a world class striker).
on the 8th February, 2021 at 10:08pm
Every title winning side has had completely average players: the 90s Milan team had Sebastian Rossi, the 90s Juve team had Moreno Torricelli, the 00s Milan team had Ambrosini (he was never anything other than above average), Conte's Juve team had Simone Padoin. These players are crucial because a) they bring stability; b) if they are playing well it shows the team is performing at its potential; and c) they let the star players shine.
on the 8th February, 2021 at 10:05pm
Calabria is my player of the season so far. He has been absolutely superb. As others have noted, and (not to blow my own trumpet) what I have been saying for 10 years is, we just needed to let the players click. So many players that were written off this time last year are not reaching close to their potential. That is the key to success. Not the transfer market. Credit goes to Pioli but I also think an extended lockdown and no fans have been important as well.
on the 8th February, 2021 at 10:01pm
@Rosario and you are watching a totally different game, Salemakers doesnt jack shit to help out this team, easily the weakest link of the Milan squad, even Pioli realised it in the Crotone game. If you gonna bring up his defensive contributions, that aint his primary job, he needs to be a threat going forward

Stop putting crossing as such a major thing, a RB's job is to defend and he does that probably the best in Serie A, we dont need our RBs to bombard forward as well like Theo.
on the 8th February, 2021 at 3:07pm
Pioli deserves great credit here. Prior to his arrival players such as Calabria, Hakan, Kessie ... were stagnating, even going backwards and looked to be on their way of the club, at a loss. In comes Pioli and finally we see the players who Milan believed they signed in the first place. And not only that, they appear to be improving all of the time. I disagree with ACM1899, selling the likes of Calabria would be like selling a fragment of the clubs soul.
on the 8th February, 2021 at 1:00pm
Evidently, the author of this article must've been watching a different game to me. Calabria was the reason Alexis picked up a yellow, when going walkies defensively. His crossing was poor and also ends up either bypassing or ignoring his winger when in possession, leaving Alexis to just do the tactical work when tracking back when out of possession. Calabria has improved, but his crossing and decision making still needs a lot of improvement if he is to be a top level full back at Milan.
on the 8th February, 2021 at 12:44pm
In the future he should be captaino been a Milan from start he knows the value of been loyal
on the 8th February, 2021 at 12:02pm
Agree with previous comments. He's very good, and his relatively recent form is miles ahead of how he used to be. Although, let's consider that, prior to our 2020 run of good form, many of our now-excellently-performing players were not doing well - Kessie and Hakan for example, both players that many of the fans (including myself) would have been happy enough to sell. So I wonder how much is personal improvement vs the "team" finally clicking (or whatever our current form's cause is - no fans?)
on the 8th February, 2021 at 9:46am
He is good. He is improving every game. He should work on crosses.
on the 7th February, 2021 at 7:42pm
His development over the last year has been unbelievable. He used to be talented but error-prone specially in defense. Now he is doing a fantastic job both defensively and offensively. He might not be as good as Theo in attack but can certainly hold his own, while he is much better defensively and slots into a center-back when Theo joins the attack.

He absolutely deserves a contract extension and a raise. As for the Azzuri, it's a battle between him and Lazzari, but Lazzari is a wing-back.
on the 7th February, 2021 at 7:41pm
Calabria has improved dramatically and with Kalulu poised, calm and controlled, I see no reason to keep Dalot. Need a more suitable replacement for Theo than Dalot. But Calabria is very versatile and devoted. Can’t say I’m not tempted to sell him eventually for a huge capital gain if I am Milan’s management but I would so after this renewal. I’d keep him for another 4 years hoping for progressive improvement. But so far he is great on the right. Well done, Davide - you deserve the renewal!
on the 7th February, 2021 at 6:52pm

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