Remembering the revolutionary Rossoneri of 2002-03
Italian giants Milan are currently on a lull, but given their history and stature, the club is one season away from becoming a European superpower again. This isn’t the first time in history that Milan are experiencing time away from the top. After Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan swept Europe between 1981-1991, they went on a trip downwards, only to return back with a bang in 2002-03.
Let’s take a look at the side that brought back laurels, trophies and global eyeballs to the San Siro.
Things began when former Italian Prime Minister and owner of Milan Silvio Berlusconi signed a young Carlo Ancelotti after the Italian was sacked from Juventus. Ancelotti had played a lot of his football at Milan under Arrigo Sacchi, and knew how to put the club back on the world map. In his process of rebuilding, he began with pulling off a deadline day signing of Alessandro Nesta from Lazio, easily one of Italy’s best centre-backs then and of the world today.
Next in line were Clarence Seedorf, Rivaldo and Jon Dahl Tomasson the same summer. These three were signed for a meager €20 million, a coup that still stands parallel to Cristiano Ronaldo’s steal by Sir Alex Ferguson.
Using a 4-3-1-2 system, Ancelotti changed how the game was played in Italy until then. He gave full backs a more attacking role, allowing them freedom to maraud forward with elan. He made two tactical switches that bore unending fruits. Long-time servant Paolo Maldini was brought to central defense to partner Nesta and Andrea Pirlo was dropped to a deep playmaking role, a position the former Juventus star took to perfection.
The team might not have won it, but showed what they were capable of that season. Defeating Inter 1-0 in the derby, Roma 2-0 and eventual champions Juventus 2-1, the side proved they were not to be stopped that season.
However, losses to lowly Empoli, Torino and other bottom-half sides saw them lose crucial points in six of the seven games they lost. Marcello Lippi had then joined Juventus, and was Ancelotti’s successor there. A cold was of sorts was brewing between two of Italy’s best tactical minds.
Milan hadn’t touched the European trophy since 1994. And realistically, no one had given them a chance beyond the semi-finals that season too. But sheer will power, talent and tactical upmanship took them to the podium. To make it even sweeter, they had defeated arch-rivals Juventus in the great final played at Manchester’s Old Trafford.
In a group that had Deportivo La Coruna and Bayern Munich, Milan stood tall, topping the table. In the second group stage too, they had sides like Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in the group of death, but the Italians topped yet again.
In the quarters, they faced AFC Ajax, a team studded with numerous talented players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Steven Pienaar, Wesley Sneijder and others. New signing Tomasson’s 91st minute goal helped them secure victory in a closely-fought 3-2 encounter.
In the semis, Milan were facing neighbours and rivals Inter. While both legs took place at the San Siro, Milan won the second leg 1-1 as the away side after the first leg had ended goalless. On the other side, Lippi’s Juventus had steamrolled Real Madrid 3-1 in the second leg, winning the tie 4-3. All pundits were betting in the Old Lady’s favour.
This was beyond just a game. Ancelotti wanted to avenge his sacking, and put Milan at Europe’s podium. The trophy meant more than just silverware to him.
The final was as tense as they come. Shots were fired, some even hitting the crossbar, but the goal was spared until the first 90 and then the added 30. After a lot of drama and saves from both sides, the Rossoneri won the trophy with Andriy Shevchenko’s final kick of the game, giving them their sixth European crown.
This team served as the framework as the club lifted the club another UCL in 2007, with Kaka playing the role of Rui Costa at No. 10 even better than the Portuguese. However, after this season, the club saw the exodus of several stalwarts, and has not recovered yet.
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