Football is a cyclical sport. There are periods in which – either due to economic availability, or due to particular circumstances – it is possible to build a very solid team and to compete for the main international trophies, and others in which things never seem to go the right way.
Milan, today, is probably halfway across the ford. After a cycle that had proved to be particularly successful in the 2000s, it has recently run into a series of years that are all in all decent, but disappointing for the fans, who have long been accustomed to seeing their team fighting for the top positions. The reasons for the partial decline are various: the lower economic availability, some unsuitable market choices, and even a certain amount of bad luck.
A GLORIOUS HISTORY
However, the fans can in part console themselves with the history of the club. A story that teaches that the dark periods always alternate with those of great victories and that the team has a coat of arms that will soon allow them to become great again. A story that can also be looked at, however, with a nostalgic eye, recalling the triumphs of the past.
But which were the most memorable ones? Which cups have Milan won whose memory deserves to survive the dust of time? Making a choice is not easy, because every victory brings with it a certain amount of enthusiasm and satisfaction. However, we tried to isolate a five: here it is.
1962/63 European Cup
The first continental triumph, against Eusebio’s Benfica
Let’s start from the beginning. From the golden age of the 60s, from the Milan of Nereo Rocco, of Giovanni Trapattoni, of Cesare Maldini, to a very young Gianni Rivera. The backbone of the team was formed in the 1950s when Milan had really begun to be an important reality of Italian football.
The Swedish trio that formed Gre-No-Li had gradually given way to Maldini, Gigi Radice, José Altafini, and Gianni Rivera. On the European field in 1958 a Champions Cup final had arrived but lost to the great Real Madrid.
THE BEGINNING OF THE ROCCO ERA
In 1962 the eighth national title had arrived, the first with Rocco on the bench just arrived from Padua. After an uncertain start to the season, in the second round, the team had won 15 out of 17 games and won the title in front of Helenio Herrera’s Inter. The path to the Champions Cup, the following year, also began smoothly, overcoming Union Luxembourg with 14 goals scored and 0 conceded in the double match.
The first major obstacle came in the round of 16, where the Rossoneri met the English champions Ipswich Town. In themselves, the British team was affordable: they had won the championship as a newly promoted one, and their surprise was not to last long (they were relegated just two years after the title).
His strong point, however, was the coach, the legendary Alf Ramsey, who shortly after his elimination from the Champions Cup would leave the team to train the English national team. National team that in 1966 would lead to the victory of the World Cup.
In the quarterfinals, Milan easily overtook Galatasaray, while in the semifinals they got rid of the Scots of Dundee without too many problems. The toughest rival then made it to the final. Rocco’s team faced Eusebio’s Benfica.
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The Portuguese team had won the previous two editions of the top European competition, beating the Barcelona of Sándor Kocsis, László Kubala and Luis Suárez and the Real Madrid of Alfredo Di Stéfano, Ferenc Puskás and Francisco Gento.
In short, Milan was not the favorite at all and in fact went at a disadvantage already at 19 ‘, suffering a nice diagonal from Eusebio. The Rossoneri team, however, did not give up and continued to attack, thanks to a particularly inspired José Altafini. The Brazilian striker managed to score a brace in the second half, which confirmed him as the top scorer of the tournament and which allowed the team to lift its first international trophy
1968/69 European Cup
When Milan overtook Best’s Manchester United and Cruijff’s Ajax
Nereo Rocco also had AC Milan’s second success in the Champions Cup, the one recorded in 1969. The team had relatively changed. Rocco himself had gone to Turin for a few years before returning to the Rossoneri in 1967. His return was immediately fruitful: in the first championship of the Rocco-bis, the Milanese team won the Scudetto (five years after the previous one) and the Cup of the Cups, beating Hamburg in the final.
Alongside the veterans Trapattoni, Lodetti, and Rivera (who was still only 25 years old), Rocco had introduced the goalkeeper Fabio Cudicini, the expert Kurt Hamrin and the very young Pierino Prati. The formula worked. The Champions Cup started disabled, due to the withdrawal of a group of teams from the east following the events of the Prague Spring. In the round of 32, Milan overtook the Swedes from Malmö, losing the first leg but recovering widely in the return match.
The Rossoneri did not compete in the round of 16, because the “reduced ranks” competition brought two teams to automatic promotion by drawing lots. However, the next two games were very difficult. In the quarterfinals, the Rossoneri ruled the Glasgow Celtic who had won the Cup just a couple of years earlier; after the 0-0 at home, Rocco’s boys managed to score a goal at Celtic Park. In the semifinals, then, came one of the strongest Manchester United ever, holder of the European Cup.
The team of George Best, Denis Law, and Bobby Charlton (and coached by Matt Busby) lost 2-0 in Milan, but won 1-0 at Old Trafford, making the Rossoneri sweat. In any case, it was the latter who qualified for the grand final in Madrid, where they meet another very young team: Johan Cruijff’s Ajax. The Dutch team had never in its history gone beyond the quarter-finals of the European competition, but within two years they would be ready to win the Big Ears Cup three times in a row.
The match was dominated by the Milan defense, who managed to stem all the gusts of the young Dutch ace and quickly restart their attack, thanks also to Rivera’s plays. Pierino Prati even scored a hat-trick, while another goal was signed by Angelo Sormani. The final result of 4-1 brought the Rossoneri back to the top of Europe for the last time before a twenty-year fast.
1988/89 European Cup
Sacchi’s feat against Real Madrid and Steaua Bucharest
The second part of the 70s and the first of the 80s were a rather dark period for Milan fans. The attempts to revive the fortunes of the team failed one after another, while the old flags were on their way to retreat and were not replaced by worthy heirs (Franco Baresi apart). Of course, there was the star’s championship in 1979, but the year after a CAF resolution relating to the football betting scandal brought the Rossoneri team to Serie B.
The situation improved with the arrival of Silvio Berlusconi, who injected new capital into the company. Arrigo Sacchi arrived on the bench from Parma, the bearer of innovative technical ideas for the time. The market, on the other hand, brought two Dutchmen destined to write the history of European football such as Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit, as well as the future Carlo Ancelotti flag. In 1988 the Scudetto arrived after an extraordinary comeback against Diego Armando Maradona’s Napoli, and the team had qualified for the next Champions Cup.
In the summer of 1988, the third Dutchman, Frank Rijkaard, also arrived and strengthened an already stellar midfield. In Europe, the Rossoneri made their debut by regulating Vitosha Sofia without problems, while they struggled in the second round against the Red Star of Belgrade. Not surprisingly, future champions such as Dragan Stojković, Dejan Savićević, and Robert Prosinečki played in that team. At home, Milan did not go beyond 1-1, and in Belgrade, they went 1-0 down; luckily the game was interrupted by fog and had to be played again the day after from the start. That second match ended again 1-1 and Milan only managed to pass on penalties.
THE SEMI-FINAL EPIC
In the quarter-finals Werder Bremen was ruled, not without difficulty, and thus we reached the semi-final with Real. The Spaniards were on their way to winning their fourth consecutive title at home and had won two consecutive UEFA Cups in previous years. Trained by Leo Beenhakker, they had champions of the caliber of Chendo, Michel, Bernd Schuster, Emilio Butragueño, and Hugo Sánchez on the team. Milan, however, did the feat: at the Bernabeu, in front of 100 thousand spectators, they dominated the match far and wide, even if they could not snatch more than 1-1. On his return to Milan, he won 5-0, humiliating the Spanish champions and sending five different scorers on the net.
The final, played at the Camp Nou in Barcelona, was a walk, despite the fact that in front of them there was the Steaua of Dan Petrescu, Marius Lăcătuș, and Gheorghe Hagi. The Rossoneri – in white for the occasion – won 4-0 with a brace from Gullit and van Basten, the two Dutch aces in the attack. The long fast was over.
Champions League 1993/94
The epic final with Guardiola, Stoičkov and Romário’s Barcelona
The period between the late 1980s and early 1990s was extraordinary for AC Milan. When the team did not impose itself in Europe, it did so in Italy, and the new champions quickly took the place of the old ones, without interruption. Sacchi left in 1991, after having posted 1 championship, 1 Italian Super Cup, 2 European Cups, 2 UEFA Super Cups, and 2 Intercontinental Cups. Fabio Capello followed him.
At first, the new coach seemed to rebalance Sacchi. If the latter, in fact, had done very well at the international level while at home he had collected less than expected, Capello immediately began by winning three consecutive league titles. In Europe, after being disqualified in 1991/92, he managed to qualify in 1993 for the final of the first edition of the Champions League but lost it to Fabien Barthez, Marcel Desailly, Didier Deschamps, and Alen Bokšić in Marseille.
The following year, however, the team was able to make up for it. In the round of 32, he overtook the Swiss Aarau with a few too many difficulties, while Copenhagen was ruled in the second round. The Rossoneri then entered the group stage, where they had to face Anderlecht, Porto, and Werder Bremen.
Milan won their group with two wins and four draws and then reached the semifinal (in one round), in which they easily got rid of the Monaco of Emmanuel Petit, Youri Djorkaeff, and veterans Enzo Scifo and Jürgen Klinsmann.
THE GOLDEN AGE OF BARÇA
In the final, on May 18 in Athens, Capello’s team would therefore have found Barcelona. The Blaugrana were in an extraordinary moment in their history. For seven consecutive seasons, they had won at least one title, and by 1990 they had posted La Liga three times.
On the other hand, only two years earlier they had won their first Champions Cup, beating Vialli and Mancini’s Sampdoria in the final. The line-up coached by Johan Cruijff included Ronald Koeman , Pep Guardiola, Hristo Stoičkov, Romário and others.
Milan had maintained the defense of the previous seasons (with Tassotti, Maldini, Costacurta, Filippo Galli, and Baresi, but the latter was absent in the final), but had renewed the midfield and the attack, with the introduction of Albertini, Desailly, Boban, and Savićević. The final was dominated by the Rossoneri. Already in the first half, Massaro managed to score two goals, securing the result. In the second half, Savićević (with a memorable goal) and Desailly rounded out one of the clearest results in a Champions League final.
Champions League 2002/03
The all-Italian challenge with Inter and Juventus
Two were the great continental successes of the 2000s: 2003 and 2007. If the latter had the taste of revenge, given that it was obtained by taking revenge against Benítez’s Liverpool, the former remained however perhaps stronger in the memory of the Rossoneri fans. Because it is one thing to finally beat a foreign team that had stolen a title from you, but another thing is to win over two rivals from your own country, with whom you live intense derbies (one even literal).
In the league, in the years before 2003, the situation had not been the most optimistic. The last title dates back to 1999, with Zaccheroni on the bench. Then came a 3rd, a 4th, and a 6th place. In 2001, the Fatih Terim card was also tried, with unsatisfactory results, and Carlo Ancelotti succeeded in the race. A coach destined to remain on that bench for 7 and a half seasons and to bring new trophies to the showcase.
The first came immediately in 2003. The adventure in the Champions League had to start from the preliminary round, in which Milan faced off against Slovan Liberec, a Czech team that only managed to overcome thanks to away goals. In the group stage, he finished paired with Deportivo La Coruña, Lens, and Bayern Munich, managing to grab first place thanks to the best goal difference against the Spaniards.
The second phase also included the groups and again Milan was first, overtaking the Real Madrid of Zinédine Zidane, Raúl, Ronaldo, and Luís Figo, holder of the Cup, but also Lokomotiv Moscow and Borussia Dortmund.
THE QUARTERS AND THE SEMIFINAL
Thus three Spanish and three Italians arrived in the quarters. While Juventus beat Barcelona in extra time and Inter imposed themselves on Valencia, Milan fought against the Ajax of the young Cristian Chivu, Rafa van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder, and Zlatan Ibrahimović, managing to score the decisive goal in the recovery of the return match, thanks to Jon Dahl Tomasson.
The semifinal then turned into the most classic of the Milan derbies, against Inter. In the first leg, at AC Milan, it ended 0-0. In the second leg, Shevchenko signed the Rossoneri advantage in the recovery of the first half, a goal that was then equalized by Oba Oba Martins.
Thanks to the away goal, Milan was thus able to access the final, where they had to fight against the Juventus of Marcello Lippi, Gianluigi Buffon, Alessandro Del Piero, and David Trezeguet. Pavel Nedved, perhaps the most in form of the Bianconeri, was unable to play the match because he was disqualified.
Milan opposed a formation among the best ever. In goal, a Dida in top form. In defense, Nesta, Costacurta, and Maldini. In midfield, the work of Gattuso is counterbalanced by the imagination of Rui Costa, Seedorf, and Pirlo. In attack, the former Inzaghi and Shevchenko. The hard-fought match ended 0-0 even after extra time.
Penalties had to be taken. For Milan, both Seedorf and Kaladze missed the second and third pitch, but Juventus managed to do worse, with the mistakes of Trezeguet, Zalayeta, and Montero. The Cup was still AC Milan.