If ever a list was made which included the giants of club football, AC Milan would be seen sitting pretty at the top. With 18 international titles – the most in the history of club football along with Boca Juniors – Milan is the most successful football club ever. Nicknamed the Rossoneri (the Red-Blacks) and il Diavolo (the Devil), Milan started its journey on the night of 16th December 1899 – little more than 110 years ago – when six Englishmen led by Herbert Kiplin and Alfred Ormonde Edwards laid the foundation of a football club which would become one of the biggest and most successful football club ever in the history of this game.
The Early Years (1899-1929)
An open countryside field would become the site for home matches in the championship for Milan, which presently has become a central station. Red and Black were chosen as the official colours of the club. On 11th march Milan played its opening match at this venue against another team from Milan named Mediolanum. Milan started on a winning note with a convincing 3-0 victory.The team played just one official game during their first season of championship against Torino and which they lost 0-3. Milan lifted their first Trophy, the ‘King’s Medal’, in its very first year and regained it for the next two seasons as well.
In 1900-01 season, which was their first complete season in the championship captained by Kiplin, Milan won their first Scudetto (National League) in their second year of existence. The next Scudetto was won only in the 1905-06 season and the third one followed soon-after in the next season. Although there was no success seen in the national league from 1901 to 1905 Milan won the prestigious ‘Palla Dapples’ for three successive seasons (1904-05, 1905-06, 1906-1907). At the same time, Milan became the most popular football club of the region. Increasing internal conflicts over allowing international players in the club led to a split within the club with the formation of F.C. Internazionale Milano (Inter) on 9th March 1908 and gave rise to one of the greatest rivalries football has ever seen. Historically, AC Milan was supported by the city’s working classes, while Inter was mainly supported by the more prosperous ones. The first Milan derby took place on 18th October 1908 with A.C Milan taking the spoils with a 2-1 win. This derby is famously known as the Derby della Madonnina.
The 1920’s were a time of change for Milan with Pietro Pirelli at the helm of the ship after being appointed as their President. It was in his tenure as the head of Milan during which on 19th September 1926 the San Siro Stadium was inaugurated. In tribute of probably the greatest Italian forward of all time the stadium is also called as “Giuseppe Meazza”. Since then, San Siro has been shared by Milan and Inter as their home ground. AC Milan supporters use “San Siro” to refer to the stadium because Meazza played as an Inter player for majority of his career.
Next Twenty Years (1929-49)
In 1929 Serie A was created, and was then called Girone Unico. In 1938 the club finalized their name, as A.C. (Associazione Calcio) Milan. In honour and respect of its origins, the club retained the English spelling of its city’s name, instead of changing it to the Italian Milano.Football took the backseat again due to WWII and returned in 1946-47 season with a format of each side playing the other just once.
Back to winning ways(1949-79)
Signing of Olympic gold medalist Swede trio of Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedholm famously referred as (Gre-No-Li) ended the four decade long dry spell of Milan in the league and led them to their fourth Scudetto in the year 1950-51. Milan won 3 more Serie A titles in 1955, 57 and 59 respectively. Nordahl was the overall leading scorer in five of six seasons between 1949 and 1955 in the Serie A. With 225 goals in 291 matches for Milan at a mind boggling rate of 0.77 goals per match Nordhal remains till date, the second highest goal scorer in the history of the Italian league and the highest goal scorer for Milan ever.
In 1950’s some of the world’s finest players joined AC Milan. One of them was Gianni Rivera brought with 200.000 $, a record at that time. He would prove to be the protagonist for Milan in the coming fifteen years. The others were the Brazilian striker Jose Altafini and the Uruguayan midfielder Juan Alberto Schiaffino nicknamed ‘Pepe’. Milan reached the semi finals of the inaugural Champions league (then called the European cup) where they lost to the eventual winners Real Madrid. Both the teams would face each other again but this time a notch higher at the finals of the 1958 European cup which Madrid narrowly won 3-2 at completed a hat-trick of European success. Milan would reach the finals again in 1963 at the Wembley Stadium where they would register a 2-1win over Benfica and lift the Eurpean cup for the first time.
The 60’s team of Milan managed by Nereo Rocco with Gianni Rivera, Cesare Maldini, and Giovanni Trapattoni, in its ranks would change the face of the club. In 1968 Milan would add the Cup Winner’s Cup and another Scudetto. In 1969 Rivera would win the ‘Ballon d’Or’ referred to as the European footballer of the year award. In 1969 Milan became European champions again, this time beating Ajax 4-1 with Pierino Prati scoring a hat-trick. Rivera would decide to call it a day in 1979 after winning Milan its 10th Scudetto which would give the Rossoneri the right to wear a star on their jersey signifying 10 national championships.
Fall from grace (Early 80’s)
Soon after Rivera’s departure Milan was rocked by the Totonero Match fixing scandal in 1980 in which several Serie A and Serie B teams were involved. Then Milan’s goalkeeper Enrico Albertosi, and President Felice Colombo were the ones found guilty of match rigging and due to their involvement, the club got relegated for the only time in its history to Serie B for the 1980-81 season. This was the darkest day in the history of this glorified club. Milan returned to the top flight the very next year but were relegated to Serie B owing to poor performance which resulted in Milan finishing in the relegation zone in 1982-83. After outclassing their rivals in the second division they returned back to Serie A the following season.
Golden Era (1986-Till date)
Amid the dark betting scandal which hit the Lombardy club hard, two of the greatest defenders to play this game ever made their debut for the Italian giants. Franco Baresi nicknamed ‘Piscinin’, meaning the “little one” made his debut in April 1978 and Paolo Maldini son of former Milan captain Cesare Maldini, made his league debut in January of 1985. Both these greats went onto wear the captain’s band and win almost every trophy they laid their hands on. So much was their impact on the club that when Baresi retired in 1997, twenty years after making his debut his jersey no. 6 was retired by the club in order to show respect to the little big man of this Italian club. Maldini career followed a similar path as his mentor’s. He retired at the age of 40 in 2009 and with that just like Baresi, his jersey no.3 was retired as well.
In February of 1986, Silvio Berlusconi an Italian businessman bought A.C Milan and rescued it from going bankrupt by heavily investing in anything and everything related to Milan. He lifted Milan to such a height that playing in Milan became the dream of almost every football player across the globe. He appointed Arrigo Sacchi an unknown entity at that time as the manager who now history has it that he obviously did not disappoint. Sacchi invested the money entrusted to him tactfully by getting a string of world class players including the Dutchmen Ruud Gullit, Van Basten and Frank Rijkaard who when got teamed up with Baresi, Tassotti and Maldini converted Milan into a winning machine. They not only won their eleventh Scudetto in 1987-88 but also their third European cup in 1988-89 after getting the better of Romanian side Steau Bucharest in the European Cup final at the Nou Camp. The defence line of Milan consisting of Mauro Tassotti, Alessandro Costacurta, Franco Baresi, and Paolo Maldini is till date considered the best backline in the history of football. Milan lifted two back to back intercontinental cups in 1989 and 1990. In 1990, Milan defended their European Cup crown in Vienna by defeating Benfica 1-0, and defended their European Supercup and Intercontinental Cup crown as well. Both .This Sacchi squad was termed as the Gli Immortali (The Immortals). After Sacchi left to coach the Italian national team, Fabio Cappelo stepped into his shoes. At this time Milan set a Serie A record of going undefeated for 58 games which is still intact. In addition to three consecutive Scudetto (from 1992 to 1994) Milan reached the Champions League final for three consecutive years as well, winning two out of these three finals which included the famous 4-0 win over F.C. Barcelona. This early 90’s squad of Milan under Capello was nicknamed as Gli Invicibili (“The Invincibles”).
Ancelloti returned in 2002 to Milan as a coach and gifted Milan fans its 6th Champions league title in 2003 and followed it with their 17th Scudetto in 2004. In 2007 Milan wiped off some of the tears which it suffered as a result of the heartbreaking loss in the finals of the Champions league against Liverpool by winning 2-1 against the same opponents at Athens to win their 7th Champions league title. Then again on 16th December the 108th birthday of the club, Milan defeated Boca Juniors 4-2 to win the World Club Championship in Yokohama to become the most successful and decorated club in the history of football.