Confidence and an old-school style: Why Gabbia is the unsung hero of Milan’s revival

By Christian Montegan -

Judgements often eventuate prematurely in the early stages whereby first impressions persuade fans and pundits.

At Milan, that narrative has been constant during examples ranging from Charles De Ketelaere not being given a long-term opportunity to Stefano Pioli being forced to accept the managerial role on the hot seat instantly due to his coaching pedigree.

Funnily enough, the Rossoneri’s mini-revival period has been driven by outcasts from other clubs or players who haven’t lived up to their full potential in previous years.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Christian Pulisic have turned out to be revelations since Chelsea lost faith in the duo and considered their best to have already passed them by.

Luka Jović was deemed unfit to wear the prestigious Milan shirt based on only a handful of performances before silencing the critics as well as Yacine Adli who was an outcast under Pioli – now reaping the rewards for his consistent hard work and commitment.

The left flank of Theo Hernandez and Rafael Leão along with the explosive displays from Loftus-Cheek have rightly grasped the headlines – but one man who is only starting to have his name praised is another outcast in Matteo Gabbia.

Growing up in the Milan youth sector since the age of 12, the hope was clear that Gabbia could potentially fill the boots left behind by countless Diavolo greats in the centre-back role.

Before that, however, he was viewed as a promising talent because of his impressive versatility and general football knowledge having commenced his journey in multiple midfield positions.

When the moment arrived to embed Gabbia in the first-team frame, he failed to inspire and convince the management staff amongst competition involving Mateo Musacchio, Léo Duarte, and Cristián Zapata.

Surplus to requirements at the start of the 2023-24 campaign with Fikayo Tomori, Pierre Kalulu, Malik Thiaw, and Simon Kjaer all considered superior options, the 24-year-old was sent out on loan to Spanish side Villarreal to recoup Pioli’s trust.

Devastating long-term injuries sustained by Tomori, Kalulu, and Thiaw on top of the lack of economic funds to sign an adequate replacement forced the club to recall the Primavera product in January to spare his blushes.

Seven starts and six victories later, that decision has proven to be a masterstroke as Gabbia continues to thrive as the unsung hero where he has been nothing short of sensational.

A defeat on his comeback debut in the Coppa Italia and the defence shipping nine goals in five fixtures, those statistics somewhat overshadowed the brilliant output of Gabbia’s performances.
Back-to-back clean sheets over Napoli and Stade Rennes have completely changed that tune.

Watching Gabbia produce this consistent high-level brings back memories of the classic old-school defending in the sense that he isn’t blessed with pace, but makes up for it with incredible positioning awareness, outstanding composure both on and off the ball, and a willingness to put his body on the line.

Perhaps the loan spell is exactly what the doctor ordered to find a newfound belief and maturity in his defensive game which has recently shone through.

In the past two games, Simeone and Raspadori were sensationally denied by Gabbia against Napoli – but also demonstrated his leadership qualities midweek during the Europa League in marshalling the back four and settling the defence.

With 22 clearances, 19 balls recovered and a passing accuracy of 93 percent in six games domestically this season, Pioli has been reassured that he has a centre-back to rely upon

These types of showings are exactly what the Curva Sud adore and appreciate – someone who wears their heart on their sleeve and represents the iconic Milan badge with honour.

An argument could be made that 18-year-old Jan-Carlo Simić should be receiving more minutes, but the teenager will have ample opportunities to make a case for himself whilst he slowly develops.

In the meantime, Gabbia already possesses the experience required to provide this defence with a much sought-after injection of solidity during an injury crisis. Yet, we often forget that he is only 24.

Perhaps it could be those same premature judgements around Gabbia not having the ‘x-factor’ or the modern-day traits of a typical central defender that unfairly hold him in a lower regard.

In this sort of form, it will take a brave man in Pioli to alter the defensive personnel in favour of the returning guard.

Tags AC Milan Matteo Gabbia


  1. I was of the view he was good , but something has changed since he came back, in a positive way. Don’t know what they fed him in Spain, but they should send more of it to Milan

      1. Exactly. When was the last time Gabbia has made ANY errors in the Rossoneri shirt? I can’t remember. But I will never forget the 3 goals Thiaw donated to Monza though.

  2. I get that this is a fan site, the article quality is generally pretty high, and Gabbia did perform ok in the last game, however let’s not sugarcoat it and present him as the new Nesta or Maldini.
    In my personal opinion, he is sloppy when it comes to challenges, as i hardly ever see him stop any attacker without committing a foul.
    I also think that our best options in defense are: the prone to errors Tomori and Kjaer, with the latter one being considerably slower than the average cb.
    With that in mind, i m not advocating to replace the entire squad. We do need to have a strong zone like the legendary offense of the 90s and the midfield of the 00s, if we are to afford introducing weaker links into the formation, a quality which we are currently lacking.
    In conclusion, Gabbia might not be the player that can make a difference but lacking other choices but he ‘ll have to do for now. Let’s cross our fingers that this won’t turn into another “Krunic” or “Jovic” situation.

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