The words AC Milan almost never fail to make the sentence that contains ‘World’s Best Football Clubs’. The Italian powerhouse has been one of the most successful clubs in Association Football and boasts of some of the greatest players and teams overs the years. San Siro has always been the home to great champions and over the years everyone would have been accustomed to seeing top-class defenders in the Red & Black of Milan.
Nereo Rocco’s success was largely due to the manager’s use of the Catenaccio system, while Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan boasted of perhaps the greatest back 4 ever. Even Carlo Ancelloti enjoyed much success thanks to a reliable defence that had the likes of Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Nesta.
In the last 15 years, when many of these defending stalwarts left the club there was always a gaping hole to fill, a very high benchmark to live upto, but there has always been someone to pass the baton onto. Someone whom the fans have grown to trust over the years but it’s turning out to be a little different this year.
Franco Baresi to Paolo Maldini and Billy Costacurta
One of the first names that spring to mind when talking about the Rossoneri or defending is Franco Baresi. The legendary captain was and is widely renowned as the best defender of this era. Always seeming to know what unfurls on the pitch well in advance.
The defensive quartet of Mauro Tassotti, Baresi, Alessandro Costacurta and Paolo Maldini is often regarded as the best in history and to no surprise. The Italian foursome had a fearsome reputation of bottling down anything an attack could throw at them and with them at the back Milan represented, arguably the finest exponents of football. The team were unbeaten for a record 58 games and much of the credit went to Baresi to skippering the team to such unprecedented success.
However, with his retirement came Milan’s downfall, albeit brief. Baresi’s retirement in 1997 was followed a barren run, perhaps their worst since Silvio Berlusconi took over the club. Milan could only collect 1 trophy in the 5 years following Baresi’s retirement and Milan were left fervently looking for a top class defender to put to an end their woes. The answer came 5 years later, through SS Lazio’s Alessandro Nesta.
Paolo Maldini to Alessandro Nesta
The Maldini name is, of course, synonymous with the red & black of AC Milan. Paolo Maldini has been Milan’s greatest hero for as long as one can remember. The former skipper holds the record for the most number of games in a Milan shirt and spent a massive 25 seasons with the Rossoneri before finally hanging up his boots, playing in over 900 games for the Milan club.
Maldini, fondly known as ‘Il Capitano’, may have been an entirely different player when compared to Baresi but certainly was equally effective and soon with age started to reflect many of his mentor’s traits – failing to panic and reading the game well in advance.
Maldini and Nesta together in defence is probably the most common sight a modern Milan fan would have seen over the past decade or so. The duo carved a niche for themselves as one of the finest defensive pairings in the world and subsequently trophies followed. When Nesta came to Milan, he was already a great defender, having proven his worth at Lazio and in the Serie A, but under the tutelage of Maldini he blossomed into a more complete product. When Maldini’s time came, Milan fans were able to breathe easy knowing there was a certain ‘Sandro Nesta’ who they can easily bank upon.
Alessandro Nesta to Thiago Silva
Nesta’s arrival at Milan also heralded good times for the club. One, the defender was the closest a player came to Franco Baresi, brilliant at the back, unflustered in defence and comfortable on the ball. Two, Milan returned to familiar territory, consistently competing for and winning top honours in premier competitions. Milan made 3 Champions League finals in the next 5 years, winning 2 of them. Won 2 Club World Cups and 2 Serie A titles with Nesta at the back.
Nesta was like the cornucopia of top defensive talent at the back and Milanista around the world could rest assured knowing Milan’s defence was in safe hands once again. The former Lazio man, may not have always had the greatest of partners – varying from the likes of Daniele Bonera to Billy Costacurta, from Paolo Maldini to Kakhaber Kaladze, from Thiago Silva to Djamel Mesbah but nothing stopped the Italian from making the defence seem twice as good as it was. Graceful as ever, Nesta never looked a terrifying defender but more than made up for it with his astounding defending. But Nesta’s defending became more effective thanks to the emergence of a certain Thiago Silva.
As Nesta’s influence on the field dwindled (not by much, mind you) with age another of Milan’s defensive prospects started to shine. Thiago Silva’s ascendency to the list of world-class defenders was quite sudden. Yes, the Brazilian came with huge promise, but even the astute Adriano Galliani could not have predicted that Silva would have been ready to take over from the legendary Nesta in just a couple of years’ time.
Even with the Italian World Cup winner missing out many games due to injury, Silva stood like a rock at the heart of Milan’s defence keeping the best of attacks at bay with calmness that belied his age and experience. In his very first season, Silva proved his worth for the Italian club playing in 33 league games and helping give Champions Internazionale a run for the money before fading away towards the end.
Silva proved that he was no one season wonder as Milan went two better in the next season and clinched their first Serie A in seven years. The Brazilian was part of a stellar defensive unit that gave away only 24 goals in the league. Napoli had the second best defence but had conceded 15 more than Milan did. Such was Silva’s influence on the team; he had turned around the fortunes of a team that had many players on its last legs.
Credit, of course, would go to Silva for proving himself, but with such reputation also comes interest from the big boys. Silva has not taken long to establish himself as a crowd favourite and that is precisely the reason the Milan contingent went apprehensive the moment there were rumours of PSG closing in on signing the defender away from Milan in what could have set a record for a transfer. Of course, the money involved was far too lucrative to deny the prospects of the deal outrightly but speculations suggested the cash might not be immediately invested on buying world class replacements for Silva.
However, with the latest development in the red half of the city, it has been all but confirmed Milan are not selling their prized asset and that has finally allowed the fans to take a sigh of relief after a week that produced all sorts of rumors that disturbed their general levels of comfort. Not giving into an offer as profitable as this one makes a definite statement of intent and asserts that Milan are intending to compete at the highest level and add to the club’s glorious history.
With the club legends having collectively called it a day at the club at the end of the previous season, there are too many boots to be field. The one at the heart of the defence however is a position that has historically been graced by the game’s greats at Milan. The baton from Nesta has now been passed to Silva and it remains to be seen whether the Brazilian continues to build on the legacy. For what he goes on to achieve with the club is unforeseeable at this moment but the fact that a player of his caliber is preserved against all odds is definitely a reason to uplift the morale of the dressing room.
Written by Guest Author Vishaal Loganathan
Follow the author on twitter: @blasphelod