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A.C. Milan’s Mattia De Sciglio was the lone member of the club to represent the Azzurri in France for the European Championships. Despite hitting a roadblock in his career for the Rossoneri, the 23-year old managed to turn in two outstanding performances for Italy, providing optimism for his parent club that better days are ahead.

“The New Maldini,” once coined by calcio experts and viewers. Milan’s Mattia De Sciglio began his playing career with the first team back in 2012, full-time during the 12-13 campaign under Massimiliano Allegri. Since having made such a first impression for the seven-time Champions League winners several years ago, it’s been anything but roses.

Over the past few seasons, Mattia has lost his starting job to Ignazio Abate and – at times – Davide Calabria. With injury set-backs and the inability to take the next developmental step, many supporters were content in never seeing him put on the shirt of the red and black again. The confidence he boasted as a youngster starting in UEFA Champions League matches against Barcelona fizzled out. The end seemed to be coming for yet another failed youth product at Milan, that is until Conte called. Literally.

Italy manager Antonio Conte selected De Sciglio for his 23-man Azzurri squad that would travel to France for Euro 2016. This Italy led by the motivational genius Conte, as we say proudly, was always going to be a unique bunch; and we saw it throughout the qualification phase.

The former Juventus manager who led three successful title-winning campaigns in Serie A has gone against the grain since replacing Cesare Prandelli two years ago. He has changed the dynamic of the Azzurri that seemed to have been in limbo over the years, instilling motivation, passion, belief and energy. With his final squad submission came scrutinizers, critics who felt they legitimately knew what was best for Italy more than him. Boy, we were wrong.

Conte selected several players who were deemed “undeserving” of a call to the average supporter: Emanuele Giaccherini, Èder and Mattia De Sciglio to name a few. Conte made it abundantly clear that he would not let the Italian media sway his selections, and he stood by that.

Conte is an exceptional leader. A motivator who knows how to rally his men, and make them truly believe that they could achieve anything. For Mattia, it took a special coach to get his career back in line, and what better a man than Conte for that assignment.

In the opening match of the Euro against Belgium, Conte started Matteo Darmian and Antonio Candreva on the flanks of the 3-5-2. The Azzurri commandingly defeated the Red Devils 2 nil, but they were dealt a blow when Candreva was ruled out of the tournament after the Sweden match. With this loss opened opportunity.

De Sciglio stepped in to start as the left wingback versus Ireland, then Spain in the Round of 16. The young Italian, down on his confidence, performed exceptionally well in the 2-0 win over Del Bosque’s men. He was fearlessly getting forward, swinging threatening balls into the box and was a force defensively with his disruption. The performance was a breath of fresh air for not only Italy supporters, but those of the Rossoneri as well. To no surprise, Conte went with the hot hand and started De Sciglio against Germany in the quarter-final.

Mattia once again repaid Conte for trusting him, turning in 120+ minutes of quality play and converting his penalty in the losing shoot-out effort. Throughout the course of the bout, Mattia showed why Milan fans were so high on him at such a young age, but it took Conte’s trust to really bring it out on the big stage.

In the days leading up to the quarter-final, rumors began to take shape on a possible exit for De Sciglio, with Napoli and Juventus in waiting. However, his agent denied any talks of a departure, indicating that his client wishes to remain with the club he was born and bred by. But, we also learned a bit more about De Sciglio and what he had been going through personally, and who he’s been seeing in hopes of re-establishing himself.

Mattia’s parent sent their son to Professor Stefano Tirelli, a mental coach from the Catholic University of Milan. Tirelli has worked with De Sciglio, helping him find the mental toughness required to succeed. Here is an excerpt from the La Gazzetta dello Sport interview, taken from Rossoneri Blog:

“At our first meeting Mattia had dull eyes. He was not depressed but yes, he was one step away from depression. He suffered criticism from fans and the press and was hit by injuries. He would even feel guilty if he went out in the evening for a pizza with his girlfriend.”

“His father Luca told me: ‘there’s Mattia the footballer who isn’t the biggest concern to me, and then there’s Mattia our son, who we love. Give us back his smile, and we’ll be happy.’ We started to work, a couple of sessions a week. We went on to explore motivational impulses and we unlocked the energy levels in the channels [that exist inside the human body according to Chinese medics].”

Tirelli continued, pointing at the one defining moment this past season that he saw Mattia return:

“I realized that Mattia had made it when I saw him fighting to stay in the match against Verona, in spite of the wound on his face. Bleeding, feeling pain, he would not come out but he had to be replaced. When I met him, I told him ‘This scar makes you more of a man, it shows how the new Mattia was born.’ Today we can say: Mattia is happy again.”

The struggles Mattia had endured over the course of three years may have finally come to an end. There is a lot of credit to go around here, but Antonio Conte is deserving of the bulk for trusting him and giving him the platform at the Euro to succeed for his country. Mattia showed up and really fought for the shirt he so desperately worked for, and that’s something we can all be proud of him for.

Mattia on this hard-fought journey back:

“This is a small reward for what I went through. For many people you can be a champion one day and then be nothing the next. Now, I’ve found my balance.”

Mattia De Sciglio, in the past four years, has been coached by five men (Allegri, Seedorf, Inzaghi, Mihajlović, Brocchi). When you have such turnover at the post, it’s difficult for players to adapt and develop. With Vincenzo Montella now sitting at the bench, we hope Mattia can pick up where he left off with his development.

If this European Championship performance and the smile on Mattia’s face are any indication of his current state, Milan and their beloved supporters can feel confident knowing they will be returned a changed man; ready and willing to be a star for his boyhood club once again.

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