The signing of Mark van Bommel could be a real masterstroke for AC Milan and quite possibly the signing of the winter transfer window. More disciplined – both on and off the pitch – than other new recruit Antonio Cassano and more experienced than fellow Dutch arrival Urby Emmanuelson, van Bommel could quickly establish himself as a key player in Massimiliano Allegri’s 4-3-3 system.

Milan were searching for an experienced and top class player to strengthen a team looking at a long injury list, one which recently forced central defender Tiago Silva to play as a screening midfielder against Cesena. The Serie A giants had no doubt about the 33-year-old Van Bommel, whose contract with Bayern Munich was due to expire in June, and who had long been linked with an exit from the Allianz Arena.

Well known for his tough tackling and never-say-die attitude, the Dutchman is the kind of player modern day coaches adore, and equally one that those who still cling faithfully to beautiful football dismiss. In the present era, the holding midfielder has become a crucial part of building a team capable of performing at the highest level. In recent years, players like Esteban Cambiasso, Xabi Alonso, Gennaro Gattuso, Marcos Senna, Michael Essien and Yaya Toure have not been any less important to their team’s success than celebrated stars such as Lionel Messi, Wesley Sneijder, David Villa, Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Kaka and Didier Drogba.

In Milan, Van Bommel will be looking for the 19th trophy of his career. Amongst others, the midfielder has won seven national titles (four with PSV Eindhoven, one with Barcelona and two with Bayern Munich) and a Champions League (in 2006 with the Catalans) so far. An impressive haul for a player who failed a trial with Ajax in the late 1990s and later left the Eredivisie at 28 years old.


Over the last four years the Dutchman has gone from zero to hero with the Holland national team. Despite making his debut on 7th October in 2000 against Cyprus, Van Bommel missed the major international tournaments until 2006. Then, after the 2006 World Cup in Germany he stated he would not continue at international level as long as coach Marco van Basten was in charge. Both had strong, but incompatible, views – once Van Bommel commented: "I knew I could never have played at my best if I’d followed Van Basten’s ideas." In Holland Van Bommel was widely criticised for his decision, especially after he jokingly declared that he would have worn a Germany shirt if it were possible.

Van Bommel returned to the national fold after his father-in-law Bert van Marwijk took over following Euro 2008 and the midfielder quickly developed into a key player for the Oranje. His ability to read the game – Van Bommel has said one of his favourite hobbies remains "to analyse on the TV the games I have just played" – and to protect the defence were vital in helping Holland reach second spot in the FIFA rankings. Under Van Marwijk, Holland have lost only one match in the last two years: the 2010 World Cup final against Spain, and only then in extra-time.

Van Marwijk has played a vital role in his son-in-law’s career, even during Van Bommel’s earlier days. When, in 1997, he was appointed coach of Fortuna Sittard, he switched Van Bommel from playing as a winger to central midfield. Van Bommel, who had joined the Limburg side in 1993, blossomed, leading Fortuna Sittard to the Dutch Cup final in 1999; the Green-Yellows lost against PSV Eindhoven. Just a few weeks later though, Van Bommel was signed by the Philips-backed club, and in 2001 and 2005 won the best Eredivisie player award. He left Eindhoven in the summer of 2005, heading for Barcelona, and departed with a double digit season of goals behind him, scoring 14 times.

The tough-tackling midfielder turned out for Barcelona for just one season, however it was enough to win a treble of La Liga, the Spanish Cup and the Champions League. "Xavi recently stated that the football they played at Barcelona was too fast for me", recalled Van Bommel in a recent interview. "I wondered how he could say this, considering that he was sidelined for six months due to a bad injury that season. I used to play in midfield with Deco and Edmilson, not with him. Of course in a team with Ronaldinho and [Samuel] Eto’o I could not be the key player, nor did I pretend I was. However, I had a great time in Spain."

Upon joining Bayern Munich, Van Bommel proved to be a key player for the Bundesliga giants, providing strength in the middle of the park. He was voted Bayern Player of the Year in the 2006/07 season and just one year later became only the second non-German captain of the Bavarian side after Søren Lerby. Van Bommel was though the first to lead the team to a domestic double, winning the Bundesliga and German Cup last season, a campaign in which Bayern Munich also reached the Champions League final.

This season though the Dutchman lost his place in Louis van Gaal’s starting line-up after he revealed he would not renew his contract with Bayern Munich, and then in January the Allianz Arena side snapped up Brazilian midfielder Luiz Gustavo from Hoffenheim; a clear sign that for Van Bommel the time had come to pack his suitcase and leave. With Milan currently topping Serie A, Van Bommel hopes to equal his Oranje team-mate Arjen Robben by winning league titles in four different countries. For the Dutchman’s journey outside his comfort zone and sheer determination it would be just reward.