Leonardo Da Vinci's time in Milan, from 1482 to 1499, is often regarded as one of the most critical in his life. He arrived at the city, short of work but not of ideas or skills, and left a series of extraordinary paintings that include The Last Supper, The Musician, The Mulberry-tree Ceiling. He also left other works: paintings, drawings, sculptures, designs for weapons and machines, and numerous sketches for architectural landmarks, along with phenomenally insightful musings, in his notebooks.
His namesake, Leonardo Araújo, arrived at Milan 515 years later in the summer of 1997, neither short of ideas or money (his transfer was around 8.5 million euros). He played over 170 games and scored 22 goals for AC Milan, in midfield, on the right wing and once or twice, as a forward.
Da Vinci worked for the tyrant Ludovico, and the modern Leonardo toiled under the debatable Silvio Berlusconi. The ancient Leo would leave Milan after the fall of the Duke and traverse Italy for many years after, but our Leo would instead return to his homeland in Brazil and play for two clubs -- Flamengo and São Paulo -- before returning to finish his career at AC Milan (though he only played one match from 2002-2003).
While Leonardo was an excellent midfield player and vital part of the old AC Milan teams, he left his best works not in his passes or his versatility but in his scouting career after his retirement. While Da Vinci gave Italy The Last Supper -- a painting depicting Jesus at supper with his disciples -- our more handsome counterpart brought Ricardo Kaka to Milan (a player who once famously celebrated a goal by kneeling and revealing a shirt underneath his kit that read "I belong to Jesus"). He was also responsible for the acquisition of Alexandre Pato, and Thiago Silva has gone on record to say that Leo was a big reason on why the defender chose Milan over his numerous other suitors.
Both Leonardo's, it's safe to say, were romantically connected with the city of Milan. Our Leonardo (are my red and black colors showing?) did all that he could do for the club and the fans loved him relentlessly. His charming words, the innocent smile, his perfectly symmetrical face and arrogant hair, were all things that the fans loved. He, of course, returned the love with equal relish. It was a fitting romance for a man who came from a city of love (Paris) to a club that loves its players recklessly.
But like all good romances, love and affection are only the first steps. Then comes friction and tension, then at last, betrayal and pain. Good things hardly ever last -- or maybe we feel like that because they are so precious -- and this relationship would face the same obstacles as any other.
Many times in love, we sow the seeds of separation by elevating our significant other on a pedestal that they either didn't ask for or are not suited to. In 2008, after receiving his Italian citizenship, Leonardo was named Technical Director at AC Milan. For many, this would have been a dream come true, but for a lot of former players, the allure of the field rings in the ears like the songs of Aglaopheme and Thelxiepeia. After Ancelotti left Milan for Chelsea in 2009, Silvio, in an audacious attempt to replicate the situation with Guardiola and Barcelona, chose Leonardo as the new manager.
While Leo was not as tactically brilliant as Pep or Jose Mourinho, which no one can really fault him for, he had the same charisma and ability to win over his players. Where Jose was arrogant and brash, Leo was charming and polite. And where Guardiola was heavily burdened by his own genius, Leo seemed free because of his lack thereof. Five consecutive defeats in his first preseason might have been alarming for any other manager but when in love, you always seem to regard the object of one's affection with rose-tinted glasses.
Leonardo, to his credit, was aware of Milan's problems and begged for signings to assist the lacklustre attack, the elderly midfield and the even nigh-on venerable defense. Adriano Galliani replied by bringing in Oguchi Onyewu, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Thiago Silva, Massimo Oddo, Dominic Adiyiah, and for some unexplainable reason, Mancini -- the player, not the coach -- from Inter. David Beckham was also brought from the Los Angeles Galaxy on loan in the winter. These transfers were made starker by the departures from the squad. Kaka was sold to Real Madrid, Paolo Maldini had retired and Yoann Gourcuff was sold to Bordeaux.
As the regular season started, the media sharks immediately smelled blood and descended on Leonardo with savage abandon. There were talks about the old guard, discussions on whether Ronaldinho could still conjure up even a shadow of his old magic, whether Marco Borriello was a striker or a rather lame joke and many, many other things that were done for web hits, ego stroking or to destabilize a squad. Leonardo was a polite man, but kindness to the world was tantamount to painting a target on his back.
A lot of the criticism was invited by the manager himself. At the beginning of the season, he proclaimed that Milan would play attractive attacking football, overestimating his own capabilities while looking at his players as a cohesive, talented unit, rather than the unorganized mob that they really were. The opening stages of the 2008-2009 campaign constituted a brutal reality check. While Milan managed to get decent results against Roma in Serie A (winning 2-1) and Real Madrid in the Champions League (a 3-2 victory), the misery was highlighted by a 2-0 loss to Inter in the derby, even though Inter played with only 10 men -- Wesley Sneijder was red-carded 20 minutes in -- for most of the game.
It looked as if the season was lost. Alessandro Nesta was injured, Ronaldinho was indifferent and Leo seemed out of his depth. But while he may have been tactically deficient, he was still a genius at human relations. Somehow he managed to inspire that Milan team, one of the worst in recent memory, to finish third in the league and though Milan were ruthlessly dispatched by Manchester United in the Champions League quarterfinals, the performances from the players and the manager were extremely promising.
At the tail end of the season, the speculation about Leo's future as manager had reached a boiling point. The voices that pleaded patience for his reign were drowned out by a cacophony of criticism. His tactics, nativity and even his good nature -- as though kindness must be treated as a weakness -- were under attack. This was all fueled by the bitter incompatibility and war of words between Silvio Berlusconi and the Brazilian gaffer. Silvio had been for long, upset at the stubbornness of Leonardo, who refused to take first team advice and selections from the owner, and the large defeats and disappointing results in the season.
The relationship, already difficult, soured to the point that Leonardo publically stated, "If the president wants me to leave, he just needs to say the word. The most important thing we need to progress is calmness and these things don't help a team." Once these problems and similar declaration from the president were made public, it was clear where the trail was leading. It was only a matter of time.
Leonardo's departure was confirmed at the end of the season by mutual agreement. But we all know that few passionate loves never end mutually and the ones that do are always messy. The handsome one was showered with cheers and waves at the end of the Juventus match, which Milan won 3-0. The fans were still attached to him, no matter how disappointing the results -- he was one of them and there was no changing that. Silvio however, didn't seem to be one of those fans. As he left, Leo took one last shot at the owner, quipping that "a narcissist doesn't like anything that isn't a reflection of himself" to explain why the partnership between the two went south.
After he left Milan, Leo declared that he could not see himself coaching for a few years and even if his sabbatical came to an early end, he wasn't interested in taking over another Serie A team. This contradicts his appointment at Inter the next year where Massimo Moratti, one of Milan's most implacable foes, welcomed him with open arms. This threw the fans into a frenzy. Accepting the Inter job was an act of treachery of biblical proportions, and it was made worse when Leonardo issued a that horrendously hurtful remark: "I want to change skin, to see things as a non-Milanista."
Many fans, overcome by emotion, declared that Leonardo's betrayal was unforgivable, his old love empty and that he had turned his back on everything ever given to him. But what about the other explanation, that he was always a pawn in the battle between two Milanese owners? With the sale of Kaka looming, did Silvio not hire Leonardo as a lightning rod to distract the fans from the owner profiting from the departure of an icon? Was Leonardo not treated unfairly in the first place, with all of the constant speculation about his future and demeaning comments from Silvio? Did Moratti not dangle such an amazing coaching opportunity in front of an ambitious coach, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in order to spite AC Milan and its fans? Whatever the reason, Leonardo took the brunt of the blame because love is hardly ever logical, and a scorned lover is worse.
His tenure at Inter went by like a blur and it left a bad taste in everyone's mouth. It would be too long to retrace and I don't have any desire to revisit that period but he won the Coppa Italia, reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League again and set a new record -- a record previously held by Jose Mourinho -- of 33 points in 13 games. The he resigned at the end of the season amidst another round speculation about his future and constant media attacks.
As Dan Handler, author of A Series Of Unfortunate Events, once wrote in Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can't Avoid: "Love can change a person the way a parent can change a baby -- awkwardly, and often with a great deal of mess." Leonardo's tenure at Inter made more or less everyone uncomfortable and burned a few bridges besides, yet an even more radical adventure was forthcoming. He was named director of football at former club Paris Saint-German in July 2011.
The PSG job instilled a remarkable change in him. Gone was the smile and the hopeful innocence (nativity, if you're the Italian press) in his eyes was replaced by a dark, strict, unflinching character with a reputation of getting his hands dirty at the request of his bosses. Leonardo himself acknowledged the metamorphosis, saying "I have broken with my good guy image. I won't keep quiet and I'm not afraid to argue ... A few hours sleep at night is enough for me. Football is not a utopia and I am not a candidate for the Nobel Peace prize." It was as though there was an evil twin brother in the place of the once beloved and kindly soul.
Leo signed players without consulting then-PSG manager Antoine Kombouaré, spoke with Carlo Ancelotti and actively recruited him without regards to the current playing and coaching staff, and continuously undermined both. While Kombouaré may not have been the man to lead PSG forward -- he had his faults tactically and he wasn't a big name -- there existed no reasons for him to be treated so shamefully. The project required glamor. In addition to recruiting Ancelotti, Leo also went after Pato from Milan and Manchester City's Carlos Tevez in order to show that PSG meant business -- and maybe to alert his former love that they were not exempt from his wrath.
This Leonardo, our third, is far more removed from the first two than the latter were from each other. He was now a soulless businessman, a proposition that anyone who had ever seen Leonardo at Milan, or even Inter, would have laughed off had it been suggested back then. But there it was, there he is, as still as his still-perfect hair, a cold, calculating director for whom human relations have become an afterthought. It their place lies ruthless efficiency. This new creature is the fault of both Inter and AC Milan, a man who has come to see kindness and romance as a weakness in football.
While his betrayal of Milan is hard to forget or even forgive, the nature of his treatment at the hands of Silvio and the media was atrocious. He was toyed with, constantly belittled and made uncomfortable after he was given the job in what he must have assumed was full faith, but now seems to have been a public relations play. His time at Inter was much of a muchness save for the scorn from the passionate Milan fans, who viewed themselves as victims. When he moved to PSG, thanks to the financial backing of the new Qatari owners, fans lamented that the club had lost its soul. One can hardly blame Leonardo for parting with his as well.
Two weeks ago, Leonardo was reported to have barged a referee after PSG drew 1-1 with Valenciennes, and as a result could face up to a one year suspension from all football related activities. The club has suspended him until his hearing on May 16. This would merely complete his incredible fall from grace. Such a drastic transformation of human is something that no one should be proud of.
This change though, this horrible change, is a burden that should be carried by all three entities and each should be equally ashamed. If they had controlled their desires, this situation, along with the awkward times that preceded it, would have been an untold story. That old romance would have remained simmering, Leonardo's soul untarnished. Maybe Maldini should be thanking Milan for ignoring him; it would be tragic to have to live through this again.