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Riccardo Montolivo has to overcome a torn ACL and fans who wish death on him

AC Milan's captain isn't just fighting to save his career after a physical injury. He has to deal with fans who don't think he deserves to be treated like a human.

On World Mental Health day, Oct. 10, Riccardo Montolivo released a statement on Facebook. He thanked fans and colleagues for their expressions of care and affection during what was a stressful time for him. Montolivo had just undergone surgery for a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament that he suffered against Spain a few days prior, an injury that will keep him out for six months. At the end of his message, he also took the measure to thank the people that wished him death.

"And love to all those who wished me a broken tibia and fibula, the rupture of all my ligaments and death... with the hope that life is able to make you grow in terms of manners and respect for other human beings."

Two years ago, Montolivo actually did break his tibia. In a game against the Republic of Ireland, the last warm-up match before the World Cup, he went for a 50-50 ball against Alex Pearce. The Irishman got the ball, but in the follow through, took out the man. Montolivo crumpled to the ground, rose again with the help of Italy's trainers, grimaced, and fell once more after attempting to walk. He cried into his hands as he was stretchered off. He would miss the World Cup and six months of action.

A month before his leg fracture, I had written about a FIFPro study that dealt with mental illness in football. The study concluded that up to 26 percent of current players reported to have some mental health problems, and for one out of four of those players, the problem was anxiety and depression. Almost 20 percent admitted to misusing alcohol.

A companion study linked severe injuries to these illnesses:

The numbers confirm the validity of the 2013 research, and some findings indicate that the problems are even more serious than in the first research: 38% of 607 current players and 35% of 219 former players sampled reported suffering from symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. Sleeping disturbance (23% and 28% respectively), distress (15% and 18%) and adverse alcohol use (9% and 25%) have been found prevalent as well.

The study also found that players who had suffered multiple severe injuries in their careers were two to four times more likely to suffer from from mental health problems than their colleagues, who already had a higher rate of illness than the general population.

The tibia break and the ACL tear are Montolivo's most major injuries, but he's suffered many more smaller -- yet brutal -- ones as well. Since November of 2010, he's suffered six injuries that kept him out for 40 days or more, from fractured ankles to hamstring strains. These on top of the smaller knocks that take a couple of weeks to recover from. In total, he's had 19 injuries at the professional level.

The issue with Montolivo for many fans has been that he's not good enough. Not for Milan and certainly not for Italy. But yet and still, against proper football judgement, he manages to make the selection for both and to captain his club team.

And so because his detractors have no power in removing him from the teams, and cannot reason why coaches still choose him, even if his performances have improved and the evidence on the field is contrary to their stereotype of him, they resist this reality by turning him into a running joke and a scapegoat. Milan lost? Montolivo's fault. It's raining on a day when you have things planned? Thanks Montolivo!

This relationship has grown so ridiculous and toxic that after having surgery to repair a major ligament in his knee, in his lowest moment, where depression and anxiety tries to crush the spirit; when he feels the most worthless, lying in a hospital bed six months removed from continuing his life's passion, Montolivo had to read messages from other human beings wishing that he not only broke his leg again, but that he was dead. They arrived in volume sufficient that he felt the need to respond to them.

Because to them, he is not a good player, not only is he exempt from simple compassion, but his lack of quality makes him deserving of the threat of death.

What the argument of his quality also does is overshadow his strength. We adore athletes who rise, fall, and return either to their former glory or to greater heights. The ones who can overcome obstacles, be it life situations or a crippling injury, to become great. But just as there's no shame in not overcoming the adversity -- after all, these heroic stories are the exception -- it is enough sometimes to just return, regardless of capacity.

A broken tibia can end a career. So can the depression and anxiety that comes with it. It takes a great strength and motivation to push through the mind-numbing, relentless, and repetitive hours of rehab everyday; to sit alone, isolated from the sport and friends as the world moves on without you; to keep the hope that there's a light at the end of the tunnel when everything seems so dark. Away from the eyes of the world, it takes courage to fight the personal thoughts that are more dangerous than random threats.

It's the disaster of watching him fall to the floor after the Sergio Ramos tackle. To see him clutch his knee and writhe around in pain is tough. For the trainers to spend many minutes spraying their magic spray, only for him to try to walk and fall down again in agony is frustrating. But the most heartbreaking part of seeing Montolivo stretchered off while crying into his hands again, isn't just the loss of another six months for what was once a talented player, but knowing that he will have to fight through and against those feelings of worthlessness if he is to return.

When he returns, he will be 32 years old and a less physically capable player than he is now. For the first few months, his mind will still be in the process of healing. He will take long to trust his body again and he may very well lose his place in club and country just as his detractors have wished.

But if he does manage to come back, regardless if he is a serviceable player or not, that will be enough. That alone is an incredible effort.