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Julian De Martinis On July - 25 - 2011

Milan’s Philippe Mexes: A Romanista Hot-Head at Heart

Philippe Mexes is a dirty cheat. He’s a walking red card and a thuggish scumbag; an explosion waiting to happen like that quiet, inevitable interval in between lighting a firecracker and waiting for it to go off.

Philippe Mexes is a tremendous defender. Sure, he has a dirty side, but what centerback doesn’t? His expulsions tend to be a bit exaggerated, and what he gives to his team far outweighs his overstated lack of discipline. Loyalty, passion, and aggression are his defining traits, and any team would be lucky to have him in their side.

Though most stories have two sides, accounts of former AS Roma defender Mexes can surface as polar opposites, depending upon the speaker. Fans of other teams in Serie A may be inclined to state the former notion, pointing to the Frenchman’s 41 yellow cards and 7 reds over the course of his Italy career. Romanisti, undoubtedly, would likely lean towards the latter categorization. Yet as ever, the truth lies somewhere else- in fact, in the same position as Mexes himself plays in the backline: right in the middle.

AC Milan have done themselves an enormous favor by acquiring Mexes from Roma. From nearly every angle, the move only makes sense. Financially? Thanks to the sheer incompetence of the former Roma regime, Philippe left the capital club as his contract expired and went to Milan with only his wages to be paid. Positionally the move is superb as well. Mexes will be able to cover two giants of the game regularly over a long season of domestic and European football. His rotation with Thiago Silva and Alessandro Nesta will be especially important as play takes a toll on the elder Nesta. His tackling, concentration, blocking, and dribbling is sound, and he will likely make a solid partnership with either man. Even in terms of age, Milan seem to have made an intelligent purchase. The 29 year-old Frenchman fits nicely in between the seniority of the 35 year-old Italian and the rising prominence of the 26 year-old Brazilian. The only regrettable part of the transfer is cruciate ligament rupture, sustained in early April while playing for Roma. However, he is set to return in October and missing less than two months of football seems a small sacrifice for a man on a four year contract.

In fact, the only aspect that Milan may have to fear is his disciplinary record, the one mark on his game that perhaps truly prevents him from being named as one of the best defenders in the world. His partnership with Juan while at Roma was ofttimes simply sensational. The two seamlessly covering each other as if each knew what the other was thinking. Mexes didn’t merely wear his heart on his sleeve but surged Roman blood in off-pitch hours, always seen cheering on the capital side voraciously from the bench. Thus it is only his discipline rather than his ability or attitude that is largely left up to debate.

In 183 Serie A appearances, Philou has received 41 yellows, 5 second yellows leading to a red, and 2 direct red cards. Thus over his seven year Roma stay, the defender has averaged one red a season. His tally is thus far beyond most others- even that of Giorgio Chiellini (1 red and 26 yellows in 175 Serie A appearances), who himself has a bit of a reputation for recklessness. A favorable comparison to Cristian Chivu’s 41 yellows and 3 reds in 176 Serie A games and Nicolas Burdisso’s 15 yellows and 3 reds in 81 perhaps does little to dispel the notion that Mexes is one of the hotter-headed players in the league. Nevertheless, the Frenchman is rarely brutal and on the whole, still reliable even if a red card a season is unavoidable (Not to mention that centerbacks are particularly susceptible to cards, as 4 of the 5 most aggressive players in Serie A last year were such defenders).

Even with such poor disciplinary records, Mexes was still lauded as one of the best around by Romanisti: not just the best defender, but as one of the best club servants.
For the insane reaction after an undeserved expulsion against Brescia, the agony against Sampdoria; the idiotic red against Shakhtar, and for the superb goal against Inter in the SuperCoppa. Nearly every petulant moment can be contrasted with one of sheer importance and character- combine this latter aspect with his passion and devotion, and the Romanisti’s point of view may begin to take shape.

When Milan’s new signing told that press that he was happy and proud to be in a Rossonero jersey, it was a declaration that stung like a dagger in the back after years of love from the Roma faithful. A sign that perhaps the love affair was not as two sided as it may have seemed. Romanisti may have felt betrayed.

They needn’t have. The Frenchman gave his all for their cause, and is now duly rewarded with the chance to compete for both the Italian Serie A title and UEFA Champions’ League on a consistent basis. Even while he rotates into a backline featuring current great Silva and evergreen legend Nesta, while he participates in a new heated derby against Inter, and while looks over at the crowd and sees Adriano Galliani smiling back at him, there may be other thoughts running through his head; Juan, Lazio, and Rosella Sensi, respectively. He may be happy and proud to be at Milan, but happy and proud to have left Roma?

The declaration may have been made, but some connections just can’t be severed.

The tears indicate as much.

Julian De Martinis

Calcio, Azzurri, and Roma tifosi. Blogger, correspondent, podcast host (@LaMagicast). Lover of books, movies, wordplay, family, and a good cappuccino.

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  • Anonyme

    Quite disagree to put every blame on the Sensi.
    Mexes, if he wanted to, could sign any contract and leave, as it was with Aquiliani. But he poulled them too, saying there will be no problem to renew, then saying I am waiting for the new company.

    The truth is, Milan never would have sign him, if he would had pay more then 10 million Euros. He wanted to became a Bosman. This is about his overstated loyalty.

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