Dear Christian Abbiati,
It is with sadness that we received the news that you will be retiring at season's end, meaning this Saturday's game against Roma will be your last at the San Siro and possibly the last of your Milan career. It is astonishing to consider that you joined Milan all the way back in 1998 when Alberto Zaccheroni was the manager. Save for three short loan spells, you have been ingrained in the fabric of this club for almost 20 years. There have been ups and down, good times and bad, and throughout them all you have been a constant piece of this team, for that we want to thank you.
In these 18 years you have dealt with your fair share of adversity. There have been moments throughout your career where a lesser person would have complained and made a fuss because things did not go their way. But you were different. You put the team ahead of yourself on so many different occasions because you recognized that it would be better for the team. Milanisti recognize and appreciate your contributions, and Milan's current crop of players could learn a thing or two about heart and professionalism from you.
After getting the lion's share of playing time during your first 4 years with us, you went on to make 7 appearances in Serie A the next three seasons combined. Most goalkeepers wouldn't have accepted a backup role after backstopping a team to a Scudetto, but you did, and in 2002 we beat Juventus in the Champions League Final with Dida in goal and you on the bench. It must have been hard to watch that final from the bench, but you accepted your role with grace and class, and we have European trophy in part because of this.
In 2005 you left on your first loan to join Juventus, in the two seasons that followed you were shipped off to Torino and Atletico Madrid, but when Milan needed you, a whole three seasons after you had last played for them, you returned. A lot of players would have held a grudge against the team that loaned them out to three different teams in three different years, but not you. When Milan called, you answered.
The next couple of seasons you cemented yourself as the starting goalkeeper, eventually making 35 Serie A appearances en route to the Scudetto in 2011, the second of your Milan career. You were never the most spectacular goalkeeper around, but you were always solid and dependable as the last line of defence, in addition to being a powerful voice behind the backline, marshaling and organizing your defenders like a true leader.
That leadership was tested at the end of the 2012-2013 season when Massimo Ambrosini left the club and relinquished the captain's arm band. As the most senior player remaining, Milan tradition dictated that the armband was to be yours. Instead, the club's hierarchy had other plans, and asked you to relinquish your claim to the armband and pass it off to Riccardo Montolivo. Once again your professionalism was questioned, and once again you put your own interests aside for the good of the club and handed off the armband to someone less deserving because the club asked you to.
Which brings us to this season, where you began the season as the second string keeper behind Diego Lopez, who was stricken by injury in October. Instead of handing you the gloves, then manager Sinisa Mihajlovic looked past you on the depth chart and promoted 16 year old Gianluigi Donnarumma to replace the injured Spaniard. Even after being denied the starting spot in favour of the 16 year old third string goalkeeper you did not complain. Instead Donnarumma went on the record to thank you for your mentorship and advice. It appears that your legacy at Milan will live on through Donnarumma as all of the time and effort you put into mentoring him looks set to benefit Milan for years to come.
Simply put, you epitomize the term "servant of the club". You handled adversity, obstacles and even disrespect with class and dignity, constantly putting your own interests aside if they clashed with those of Milan. You were never the most talented goalkeeper around, but your dependability, leadership, and class has propelled you into the hearts of all of us. Farewell and thank you for everything Christian, we won't forget it anytime soon.