8 May 2017

Franco Baresi - AC Milan great

Defender voted club's 'player of the century'

Franco Baresi made 719 appearances for AC Milan
Franco Baresi made 719 appearances for AC Milan
The great AC Milan and Italy footballer Franco Baresi was born on this day in 1960 in Travagliato, a town in Lombardy about 13km (8 miles) south-west of Brescia.

Baresi, a central defender who was at his most effective playing in the libero – sweeper – role, made 719 competitive appearances for the rossoneri, with whom he spent his entire playing career, spanning 20 years.

During that time he won the Italian championship – the Scudetto – six times and the European Cup three times, as well as many other trophies. He was made captain of the team at just 22 years old.

At Milan he was part of one of the most formidable defences of all time, alongside Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Costacurta, Mauro Tassotti, and later Christian Panucci, with Giovanni Galli in goal.  He and Maldini shared the extraordinary record that in 196 matches they played together, AC Milan conceded only 23 goals.

Baresi also won 81 caps for the Azzurri in an international career in which he went to three World Cups. 

Although he did not make an appearance, he was part of the Azzurri squad that won the competition in Spain in 1982, was an integral member of the team that finished third on home soil in Italia ’90 and captained the side in the United States in 1994. There he heroically battled back from a meniscus injury to lead the team in the final in Pasadena, where he suffered the cruel misfortune, in common with another Azzurri legend, Roberto Baggio, of missing a penalty in a shoot-out won by Brazil.

Franco Baresi with his brother Giuseppe (left), who played for Milan's city rivals Internazionale
Franco Baresi with his brother Giuseppe (left), who played
for Milan's city rivals Internazionale
At his peak, Baresi earned the right to be considered the equal of some of the greatest defensive players in the history of football.  Although he was not a giant physically – he stood only 1.76m (5ft 9ins) and weighed just 70kg (11st 4lb) – he tackled ferociously and headed powerfully. The gifts that made him stand out, however, were his ability to read the game, to anticipate trouble and to launch attacks with his accurate passing. In that respect, he was spoken of in the same breath as the sweeper of the West German team of the 1960s and 70s, the redoubtable Franz Beckenbauer.

Baresi lost both his parents by the age of 16, which meant that he and his older brother, Giuseppe, had to grow up quickly. Both were determined to make their careers in football. Giuseppe was taken on by AC Milan’s rivals, Internazionale, at the age of 14. Franco tried to follow the same path but was rejected as too small.  Undaunted, he went for trials with the rossoneri and won a contract, claiming that he was “always a Milanista” as a fan and was therefore fulfilling his dream.

His potential was recognised almost immediately and Nils Liedholm, Milan’s legendary Swedish player and then coach, gave him his debut towards the end of the 1977-78 season, in the same team as Fabio Capello and Gianni Rivera.  His nickname in the Milan dressing room was Piscinin, a Milanese dialect word meaning ‘the little one’, yet he quickly established himself as one of the key members of the team, winning the Scudetto in his first full season.

Franco Baresi as he is today
Franco Baresi as he is today
Milan subsequently went through some tough times, which included relegation from Serie A in a match-fixing scandal, but Baresi stuck with them and became a vital component in some of the finest Milan teams of all time, notably the squad coached by Arrigo Sacchi to win the 1989 European Cup, beating Real Madrid 6-1 on aggregate in the semi-final before thumping Steaua Bucharest 4-0 on the final.  Apart from the aforementioned defensive combination of Baresi, Costacurta, Tassotti and Maldini, the team included the great midfielders Roberto Donadoni and Carlo Ancelotti and the brilliant Dutch trio of Frank Rijkaard, Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit.

In 1999, he was voted Milan's Player of the Century. He was named by Pelé one of the 125 Greatest Living Footballers at the FIFA centenary awards ceremony in 2004, and inducted into the Italian Football Hall of Fame in 2013.  After his final season at Milan in 1997, the club retired Baresi's number six shirt in his honour.

His coaching career included a short spell working in England as director of football at Fulham and he has worked for AC Milan in various capacities, as executive, youth team coach and in the club’s marketing department.. The father of a 16-year-old son, Eduardo, and the uncle of Inter women’s star Regina Baresi, his opinion nowadays is regularly sort by the Italian media as he remains a high-profile figure. 

The Piazza Libertà in Travagliato
The Piazza Libertà in Travagliato
Travel tip:

Baresi’s hometown, Travagliato, just outside Brescia, is sometimes called the Citadel of Horses on account of the equestrian festivals hosted there every April and May, which feature polo matches, harness racing and show jumping events among other things. The town also has a number of fine churches, including the church of Our Lady of Lourdes and the church of Santa Maria dei Campi.

Travel tip:

Brescia is a rich industrial city not on the main tourist track but has numerous things to see, including the old and new Duomos, one built in the 12th century, one in the 19th century, which are next door to one another.  It is also famous for its museums, one of which is dedicated to the Mille Miglia, the former car race from Brescia to Rome and back.

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