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In defense of Cristiano Biraghi

The Viola captain isn’t especially popular with the supporters, and that’s a rather strange thing.

CF Fiorentina v Udinese Calcio - Serie A Photo by Lisa Guglielmi/LiveMedia/NurPhoto via Getty Images

To paraphrase Juvenal, “Quis defendat ipsos defensores?”

Cristiano Biraghi is not a perfect player. Indeed, he’s a pretty flawed one. His inability to stay in front of quick players is deeply frustrating and means he’s often more of a traffic cone than a fullback. His crossing can be wayward. His set pieces don’t always come off. He’s prone to the odd fit of petulance. He left Fiorentina to join Inter Milan.

I’ll address all those points in a moment. I want to highlight, though, that this is a guy who’s got the sort of idiosyncratic talent to make him a cult figure. After all, he’s one of Serie A’s highest scoring defenders over the past few years, notching 11 goals since joining the club in 2017, including 5 this year. He scored a free kick brace earlier this season and is tied for the league league in set piece goals with Lorenzo Pellegrini and celebrated one by doing the Conor McGregor walk. He has silly tattoos and a sillier mustache. He’s fun.

More than being a fun player, though, he’s the team’s captain, so he clearly has the respect of his teammates and manager. He’s fiery and sticks up for his guys, constantly barking at referees when they don’t protect the Viola players; when that doesn’t work, he’s not afraid to stick a boot in to make his point. While you can occasionally question his decision-making and ability, you can’t question his commitment: he leads the club in minutes played and was 5th in that category last year. He’s also willing to play through knocks. He does all the stuff you want from a leader.

Maybe one of the reasons fans dislike him is that he moved to Inter a few years ago, but it’s tough to blame him: after all, the Nerazzurri are his boyhood club and he’s always been pretty frank about wanting to earn a chance there. When it didn’t work out in Milan, he returned to Florence without looking back and immediately established himself in Tuscany again. That’s hardly a reason to dislike the guy.

Is it the stats? I don’t think that’s a fair criticism either. He’s one of Serie A’s best shooters from free kicks, he’s also created the 2nd-most chances from free kicks in the league, trailing just Hakan Çalhanoğlu; given that his only quality target is Nikola Milenković, you can safely assume he’d have more than his 1 assist, especially as his free kicks have led to a number of goals that don’t turn up on the scoresheet for him.

From open play, too, he gets a lot more flak than he deserves. He’s completed more crosses (32) than anyone in the league; in fact, 2nd-place Antonio Candreva is 8 behind him, and Biraghi’s attempted 37 fewer than the Sampdoria man. His accuracy rate from open play is 25%, which is quite good, and he’s been doing this for awhile now. While we tend to remember the ones that gently balloon out of play, it behooves us to recall that he picks out a target more often than anyone else in Italy. Without an aerially dominant forward to aim for, that’s an even greater confirmation of his quality delivery from the wing.

To repeat, I’m not saying he’s perfect. I’m not saying he’s a club legend. I’m not saying he’s the best or most important player in the side. But it’s probably time to stop laying so much grief at his doorstep. If he’s a bit prickly with fans, it’s probably because his family received death threats after a bad game a few years ago from a “supporter;” it’s hard to hold that against anyone.

Just look at Manuel Pasqual, who became a club legend by showing up and spamming in crosses for eleven years. I love Manny (and his move into co-commentary has been one of my favorite developments of the year), but there’s no way he’s a better player than Biraghi. Just like Pasqual, Biraghi’s never going to be a star. He’ll never be the best player on the team. What he is, though, is an eccentric player whose positive contributions usually outweigh his negative ones. That’s a guy worth celebrating, not attacking.