Down Memory Lane: Why the magic Maldini sums up mighty Milan
Milan, Italy’s football and fashion capital and the scene of Manchester United’s Champions League clash last night against AC at San Siro Stadium watched by millions throughout the world.
AC Milan, whose president since 1986 is Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, darling of the Italian red top tabloids, is the sixth richest club in the world, sharing the 80,000-capacity stadium with Internazionale Milan.
Tense rivalry exists between the fans yet the administrator and player relationships could not be more cordial.
Andy Mitten, in his book “Mad For It” the story of football’s greatest rivalries, revealed that last November Inter’s Christian Vieri sent a congratulatory text message to Andriy Shevchenko when the back-from-injury Milan striker scored the vital Champions League winner against Real Madrid.
A week later the gesture was repeated when Bubo himself ended a goal drought by snatching all four against Brescia. To further illustrate the friendliness at San Siro, memorabilia and trophies are exhibited together. You won’t find any from Juventus or Genoa!
AC have had many noted managers including from 1924-26 Vittorio Pozzo, “The Old Master” as he was called, who steered Italy to glory in the 1934 and 1938 World Cup finals, and the 1936 Olympic Gold medal.
The late Danny Blanchflower and I established a friendship with Pozzo, when he was a journalist with the newspaper La Stampa. Even Danny, who not only kissed but swallowed the Blarney Stone, was mesmerised by his theories and knowledge of the game which he always advocated should be kept simple.
An inspirational leader and tactical genius, unfortunately he never got the opportunity of defending the Jules Rimet Trophy for a third time because of the second World War which put the tournament into abeyance for 12 years.
Historically AC Milan has been supported by the city’s working-class, trade unionists and immigrants, while Inter represented the more prosperous. Twice every season they meet in Serie A creating a unique atmosphere maintaining a heritage and crowd appeal with the revenue generated going a long way to paying the astronomical salaries commanded by the superstars.
Milan’s statistical records are mind-boggling. The talismanic defender Paolo Maldini (below) played 687 games for them while the leading goalscorer is the Swede Gunnar Nordahl, who, in 268 matches, hit 221 goals. They went through the 1991-92 season without losing in 58 fixtures commencing with a 0-0 draw against Parma in May 1991 and ending with a 1-0 home defeat by Parma in March 1993. Italians contend this was the ultimate back four of all time — Franco Baresi, Alessandro Costacurta, Mauro Tassotti and Maldini.
The honours list is impressive — 14 European trophies, World Club Championship titles — the envy of many others.
Maldini, whose father Cesare was also an Italian stalwart, spent 25 seasons at the club retiring when aged 40; he won seven Serie A championship medals, five UEFA Champions Leagues, two Intercontinental Cups and one FIFA Club World Cup. Add to that array 126 Italian appearances, captaining the side 74 times, and scoring seven goals.
A year ago Italian head coach Marcello Lippi declared his support for a testimonial match for Maldini stating it would give him one final appearance for the Azzurri. They offered him a place in the line-up in a June friendly against Northern Ireland at Pisa but Maldini rejected stating he wanted to say goodbye in an official game.
Marco Van Basten, a San Siro hero and one of the finest centre-forwards of all time until injury took an early toll, has described AC as being too old with a cabal of veterans — a theory underlined when they lost to 10-man Inter a month ago.
Why such longevity? Perhaps Milan’s acclaimed Football Laboratory with its combination of science, technology, IT, cybernetics, psychology and eye glass Mind Room at the training headquarters could provide the answers.
Berlusconi, however, short circuits the high tech.
He is reported to have telephoned one of his non-conformist rebellious and under-performing players and simply told him to get the finger out!
Shades of Bill Shankly, Jock Stein, Brian Clough and may I say our own Billy Bingham, who, at the height of his managerial career once told a Linfield player when he called to say he had a cold and couldn’t make training: “Sonny, blow your nose and get to Windsor Park!”.