Amongst the many disasters of Milan’s 2013/14 campaign, a hero emerged for the Rossoneri. Nigel de Jong marshaled the midfield with defensive ability and passion not seen since Gennaro Gattuso graced the pitches of Italy in a red and black shirt. The Dutchman was a rock in Milan’s frighteningly poor defensive group of players, and saved the club from humiliation countless times. His intimidating presence and enormous strength made him seem like he was in fact three players working as one to stop play after attacking play. But while De Jong is in fact one person, he often did the work of three to four players during the course of the 90′. Not afraid to go into a hard tackle to prevent a goal, he gave it all for the Milan shirt every single match. After the closing of the 13/14 season there was no question as to who the club’s player of the season was: Nigel de Jong. Going into 2014/15 it was expected that with the departure of Balotelli, El Shaarawy would once again step up and carry the team to glory. Eight matches in, it has become clear that the Dutch midfielder who was purchased by Milan for an astonishingly low £5 million is once again the team’s standout player.
Following a great World Cup, De Jong came back to Milan off a run of almost a year of fantastic form and immediately translated it to successful league outings. He scored a goal in Milan’s 5-4 fiasco win at Parma FC and put in key displays against the aforementioned Parma, Chievo, Juventus, and most recently Fiorentina, who he also scored against. Consistently strong in the air (as evidenced not by only his headed goal against la Viola but his consistency in winning aerial duels as well), de Jong has continued to use his strength to dominate weaker opponents.
Beyond his physical presence, de Jong’s psychological aura has contributed to his great performances as well. Despite not being the biggest guy on the pitch (in fact he is the shortest player in Milan’s first team), his reputation as a combative and brutish midfielder intimidates players of opposition clubs. This often times allows de Jong to gain control of the ball and the tempo of the match without having to make a big tackle. He exemplified this in the win against Chievo Verona, where despite only making two tackles De Jong controlled the entire middle of the pitch and was a generally fearsome opponent for Chievo players to cross.
The Dutchman is also one of the most vocal Milan players, constantly speaking to the press after matches and directing play on the pitch. He has reiterated again and again that he loves the club and wants to stay at Milan, something that few current Rossoneri have done. He has worn his heart on his sleeve in every single match for Milan, and his frustration at his club’s shortcomings and excitement during its successes are as apparent as his balding head. An optimist at heart, De Jong has stated that he aims to get Milan back to where the team belongs: in the Champions League.
Nigel de Jong’s intimidating style of play, powerful physique despite a relative lack of height, and non-stop effort every single match have catapulted him from questionable buy two years ago to one of the world’s premier defensive midfielders. His passion for Milan both on and off the pitch also stakes a claim that it should be him and not fellow 2012 arrival Riccardo Montolivo that should wear the captain’s armband. With his contract expiring at the end of the season, Berlusconi and co face the potential for riots should they fail to extend de Jong’s contract and let their Dutch ‘pit bull’ go on a free.