Back by popular demand, we have another guest blog by our very own Drewsef. As I said before, the opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect my views or those of other bloggers on this board (although I did add all the photos and captions). And I know we have a game tomorrow and this really should be a preview (especially considering I missed a preview for the Lecce game), but I figure we all know what's what in Serie A by now and this is a lot more interesting than anything I would have written. So, thanks to Drewsef for another wonderfully written, insightful post.
Thiago Motta didn’t have the best of matches against Napoli in the Coppa clash last week. In fact, he totally sucked. This on the face of it isn’t much to speak about; it happens to the best of us sometimes. But this one minor shitshow has gathered extra, melancholy importance now that we know it represents the last contribution he’ll ever make to the Nerazzurri.
Here he is in his last game for Inter. Ciao Thiago Motta.
I’ll be the first to admit that many of our transfer moves have baffled me of late, with promising players shipped off and other unknown players picked up for reasons that seemingly had more to do with Talmudic numerology than footballing ability*. Yet the sale of Motta makes perfect sense to me. It makes perfect sense, and yet I’m 100% against it.
The reasoning in favor of releasing him is clear. Thiago Motta is 29; hardly ancient, but considering his history, it’s worrying. He’s been notoriously injury-prone ever since his early 20s -- in the two and a half seasons he was here, he had two injury layoffs that were so long I almost forgot he was still on the team. It’s not hard to imagine these injuries will increase in frequency and severity as he ages, and considering he’s never been particularly fast or physically agile, the idea of him starting to slow down further is troubling. And just as importantly, this season we’ve been seeing the rise of defensive-minded midfielders like Obi, Poli and Faraoni to starting player positions. These guys might not play in Motta’s style, exactly, but they would likely be slotting into the type of role that he usually occupies. We now also have the excellent and reliable Palombo in the squad to dictate play and make the hard tackles. Fellow defensive midfielders Zanetti and Cambiasso will be with this team as long as they can walk. And Crisetig is a year or two away from the senior squad. That means we could essentially soon have seven players capable of playing in Motta’s defensive, utility-mid position, and something clearly had to give.
He didn't earn the name "Glass Man" for nothing.
So trading Motta now, while we can still get decent money for him, and in fact while there’s a very wealthy club keen on taking him**, makes a lot of sense. But I still think it’s a mistake.
There are several reasons I feel this way. First off, he scores a very decent amount of goals for a man whose natural position is so far back on the pitch. He’s an exquisite passer, and unlike the ever-abused Sneijder, he’s usually allowed pretty generous space to work his magic. Considering he’s just now broken into Prandelli’s Azzurri squad, he’ll be keen to leave a good impression in these months leading up to the Euros. Ranieri wanted to keep him, and he’s a vital cog from our Treble-season machinery who’s still operating at a high level, which brings general good juju.
Ok, so he was only healthy enough to play half our games this season but when he did play, good things happened.
But these are all secondary points. My primary argument for keeping him is this: Motta is the most honorable dishonorable player I’ve ever seen.
Every great team needs a villain, a man who’s willing to let his teammates be the highlight reel heroes while he lurks around the dark alleys, waiting to pull a cheap shot. These players are often best deployed as defensive midfielders. And Motta is a great defensive midfield villain. If there’s a scuffle on the pitch, with red-faced players thumping their chests and being held back by teammates, you can bet that Motta will be somewhere in the vicinity, either heaping on the insults or else unconvincingly trying to look innocent. If a replay reveals an uncalled penalty in the box against Chelsea, you can be sure Motta’s the one slyly dragging an opponent to the ground. If the team is being overrun and needs to slow down the play, Motta will inevitably pull up with a sudden cramp requiring of attention. And if a quick player is poised to break down the middle and needs a little shirt-tug or nip at the heels to slow him down, Motta’s got you covered.
There’s nothing at all noble about this sort of player, but every great team has one. Barca splits the villain duties – with Sergio Busquets doing most of the diving and the casual racial slurs, and Dani Alves picking up the slack on nasty fouls. Pepe errs on the side of steroidal rage in his villain role at Real. Nigel De Jong’s villainy is so highly developed that his last name is now used as a past-tense verb. Milan used to have one of the all-time great villains in Gattuso***, but now they’re forced to settle for a knuckle-dragging ogre like Van Bommel.
But here are some key distinctions between Motta and those others: Motta has never been accused of making racist insults, he’s never injured anyone, he’s never obviously tried to injure anyone, and I’ve never seen him take a dive with the intention of getting a player sent off. His villainy is purely functional; a bit cynical, yes, but almost never malicious. Where others strive to be leg-breaking bullies, Motta is content to be a low-level irritant.
Sergio Busquets playing up his diving villain roll. Thiago Motta would never do something this despicable.
And it’s not just that his thuggery is mostly harmless, it’s also intelligently applied. Despite having racked up an impressive 28 yellow cards in his two and a half seasons at Inter, Motta was sent off exactly once in that period – and ironically, said sending-off was famously unwarranted, prompted by the machinations of a far less honorable dishonorable player. Think about that for a second. That means that of all 28 bookable infractions that Motta has been caught committing, none have been bad enough to get a straight red. It also means that Motta has played 26 matches on a yellow card without subsequently receiving a second. (And that number should really be 27.)
For someone with a reputation as a rough, cheating dirtbag, that’s a truly remarkable record of self-discipline and restraint. And it indicates that Motta knows exactly what he’s doing when he ventures into football’s dirty side. Just as his ability to read the developing shape of the game makes him an effective playmaker, his ability to take the emotional temperature of the match makes him an effective tactical fouler. He can tell when an opposing player is about to lose his head, and just needs a little niggling foul to nudge him off the cliff. He can tell when giving up a midfield free kick is infinitely preferable to letting play go on. And he knows how to do all this without stepping over the line, even while giving the impression that he’s already crossed it.
It’s this odd combination of sobriety and wildness that makes him so special, and so difficult to replace. Cambiasso and Zanetti are too genuinely honorable to engage in this sort of play – transforming either of them into shit-talking douchebags would require replacing their jerseys with some sort of alien symbiote****. Palombo is a hard-nosed player, but he’s not a villain type either. Guarin might be a bit villainous – I don’t know, I’ve never really seen the guy play – but I doubt he’s as intelligently dirty as Motta. Perhaps we could convince Poli or Obi to put on the black hat in Motta’s absence, but it would be a hard sell, because playing the villain is a form of sacrifice that few decent players are willing to make.
How can you not love this guy?
There are all kinds of sacrifice in football. It’s one thing to sacrifice for the team by playing out of position or serving as a provider instead of goal-scorer. It’s quite another to intentionally welcome the hatred of opposing players and fans, to leave yourself open to violent retaliation from aggrieved opponents (for which you’ll receive little sympathy when it comes), and to invite self-righteous Oxbridge pundits to question your honor and ability every time you play. For this I can’t help but empathize with Motta. Every aspiring footballer wants to be the hero – the guy little kids dream of being in pickup games, the one who inspires banners and chants in his honor. Imagine the work it takes to make it that far, spending a lifetime of hard practice, training and commitment to finally become a top-level footballer, and then to spend your time in the spotlight playing in such a way that no one sings your praises, no one wants to buy your jersey, no one composes epic odes to your greatness when you retire. It’s got to be tough, psychologically, which is why most of the players who gravitate toward this position tend to be borderline sociopaths. But Motta isn’t.
Motta’s biggest talent is the ability to be a great player without ever even seeming particularly good*****. We wouldn’t have won the Treble without him, yet when people recall that squad a decade from now, I doubt his name will come up much. He’s also the rare player from that squad who would have fit in perfectly on Helenio Herrera’s Grande Inter side as well, though I doubt we would remember him if he had. So he’s a player who produces memorable moments without being remembered for it. He’s happy to look bad so that the rest of the team can look good. I can watch him play dirty without feeling dirty about it.
I’m gonna miss this guy, damn it.
* How else do you explain Jonathan’s signing?
** Speaking of which, is anyone else annoyed by the way we seem to be continually getting nickel-and-dimed by the most conspicuously wealthy clubs on earth? PSG has been spending money like a drunken sailor, yet they evidently quibbled over our completely reasonable 12 million asking price for Motta, eventually paying 10. Anzhi had no problem offering Eto’o a Tsar-like salary of 20 million per year, yet we couldn’t get them to pay us more than 25 for his entire contract. Man City has enough money to buy the whole EPL if they want, yet they gave us a fee in the low-20s for Balotelli, who will probably be valued in the high-30s in a year or two. These are the kind of clubs we should be exploiting for all they’re worth, yet we keep giving them discounts…
*** I honestly mean that as a compliment.
**** “Neeeeeerrrrrrrdddd!” the chorus screamed at him in unison.
***** I don’t even think he gets enough credit for his passing, as he seems more likely to provide the pass right before the assist than the assist itself.
So there you go. Goodbye Thiago Motta... Hello Palombo I guess. If I thought Thiago Motta and Milito were damp squishy dead mice left as a special present by your cat for you to step on in the middle of the night with bare feet, I guess Palombo feels like a hairball: not a present but still wet and squishy and gross. Let's just say I am not convinced. Like Ranieri, he will have to win me over. I want to believe, I really do.
And dont forget the game tomorrow: Against Palermo at the San Siro, 8:45pm local time (11:45am pacific; 2:45pm eastern). Oh, and just to mess with us, Thiago Motta is on the call up list. Yikes.
It isn't your fault that you are not Thaigo Motta. Welcome aboard. Please dont suck.