Much has been said about the plight of AC Milan in recent times, however their recent resurgence in Serie A, which will now almost certainly see them qualify for next year’s Champions League, coupled with a gutsy showing in this year’s competition against Barcelona, has got Rossoneri fans optimistic once again.
However, it will take a lot for the current crop of stars to emulate arguably the best team of all time: the AC Milan side who reached two Champions League finals in three years. The list of superstar names during that period is quite frankly ridiculous.
Paolo Maldini, Cafu, Jaap Stam, Alessandro Nesta, Gennaro Gattuso, Clarence Seedorf, Andrea Pirlo, Kaka, Andriy Shevchenko and Hernan Crespo as well as a few others, were all at the peak of their games during this time and arguably some of the best players to ever play the game.
This team coupled the typical Italian organisation and grit with some of the best passing and movement ever seen in Europe. This was largely down to a young Kaka who was quite simply mesmeric when he got the ball at his feet, running at defenders with such speed, strength and control that he was rarely ever unable to go past his marker.
The Brazilian has never been able to produce the same form for Real Madrid since his €70million move in 2009 and it is no coincidence that AC Milan’s gradual decline in Europe coincided with Kaka’s departure.
On top of a talismanic Brazilian midfielder, Milan also possessed two of the best and most prolific strikers in European football history. Andriy Shevchenko and Filippo Inzaghi still remain in third and sixth place respectively in the all-time top goal scorers in Europe.
In those two forwards, Milan possessed a partnership that exceeded 200 goals and when presented with a goal-scoring opportunity they rarely passed it up. Shevchenko missed the deciding penalty in 2005 that saw Liverpool lift the Champions League, however Inzaghi was to be the man whose brace in the 2007 final ensured AC Milan exacted revenge upon a Liverpool side that had somehow pulled off the biggest and most surprising comeback in European football history just two years earlier. If there was any doubt as to Inzaghi’s legendary status at AC Milan, those two goals certainly quashed them.
Alongside Kaka in midfield, Seedorf and Pirlo anchored the side and their defensive midfield partnership was perhaps the most perfect in history. While Pirlo exuded class every time he got on the ball, Seedorf was battling away alongside him, breaking up countless opposition attacks while also possession a great deal of quality and composure with the ball at his feet.
However, perhaps the most impressive aspect of this incredible side was its defence. Not many could argue with Cafu being the best right back of all time, as he would incomprehensibly run up and down the pitch non-stop for the entire 90 minutes, and extra time if needed, without ever showing signs of fatigue, even into his late 30s.
Stam, Nesta, Maldini and Alessandro Costa would all be worthy of a place in the top five defenders of all time, and the fact that AC Milan possessed all four of them at once is a real indicator as to the sheer quality and unbelievable strength in depth that this side had.
At left back during this period, Milan could call upon the considerable talents of Kakha Kaladze and Marek Jankulovski, who were both more than worthy of a regular place in this side so abundant with talent. They were constantly vying for a position at a time when there were plenty of outstanding left backs in world football, and the quality throughout the rest of the side should not detract from their immense capabilities and influence on the team during this time.
One thing that AC Milan do not currently possess is a prolific goal scorer, although it looks as though Mario Balotelli may be the man to remedy this. M’Baye Niang is also looking like he could turn into a leading star for AC Milan, with the young Frenchman already showing glimpses of quality, in particular during his side’s recent Champions League tie against Barcelona.
Massimo Ambrosini is currently the only outfield player remaining in the squad from that 2007 Champions League final victory, and the AC Milan fans will be hoping that their inspirational captain can bring some of that experience from the class of ‘07 to guide them through the last five games of the season.