There comes a time when every player has to hang up his boots and with a Milan team, who has churned out a mass production of legends over the years, one would think saying goodbye would be easy. This was not the case, even after the umpteenth time a legend confessed to stepping down; when Alessandro Nesta admitted that he had played his last season in the Rossonero jersey.
“This has been my last season with Milan,” he stated in his official press conference. “I’m leaving. We’re playing at high levels and if I no longer feel important then I’d prefer to stay at home.
“I’ve won a lot but out of respect for the club and myself, I would like to go and try a different experience where I will be able to do something good.”
Born on the 19 March 1976 the boy from Cinecitta- an area in Rome- has come a long way from the day he kicked and screamed at his dad to let him play ‘calcio’, due to his brother, Fernando, joining a team to help with his back problems.
It always seemed that the tall and lanky pitch-black haired boy would be destined for a career in football when he was pouched out by a Roma scout, Francesco Rocca. But as his father, an ardent Lazio fan, would have it the proposal was turned down.
In 1985 he joined the youth sector of the Biancocelesti and it soon became evident that Nesta would be the golden boy of defenders coming out of Rome, ultimately being the pillar in altering Lazio’s fortune.
“I owe everything to my father,” the humble defender told Sky Italia. “My arrival at Lazio was also for my Dad, a kind of dream that came true. We were all Lazio in the family, tifosi, not just sympathizers.”
Eight years later Nesta was inserted into Dino Zoff’s first team but came to the attention of the fans for the wrong reasons when he broke Paul Gasciogne’s leg in a training ground accident.
“He made a normal tackle as I was kicking the ball,” Nesta told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “I can't tell what happened exactly, but I realised something terrible had happened when I heard Paul screaming in pain.”
It was that day that turned the boy into a man.
Nesta embarked on a Roman journey like no other. After winning over the hearts of the people who nearly crucified him on the day he broke Gazza’s leg, Nesta assumed captaincy of the club and lead them to seven different accolades in nine years: success the club is yet to replicate.
Due to financial problems the Formello outfit had to depart with two of their heroes: Nesta and Hernan Crespo.
Like his father Nesta was a devout Lazio fan and was shattered by his boyhood dream having to come to an end: “My dream had been to play forever for Lazio, but I didn’t have the chance to choose. I didn’t feel betrayed, but the club made me leave in an unfortunate manner at the time.”
In 2002 the near 6ft2 Italian set sail on a new journey, one in which he wasn’t prepared for, but one that would end with some of the sweetest memories of his career.
Always one to shy away from the public eye, the best of Nesta was always left for his time on the field. As a Rossonero he won all he could, including the UEFA Champions League and the FIFA World Cup, forming a partnership alongside two other Milan legends; Paolo Maldini and Billy Costacurta.
Shy and humble off the pitch; Nesta took true to his Roman heritage and battled like a gladiator on the field, his latest display in ‘schooling’ Lionel Messi, at the age of 35, shows the never ending class and talent he posses.
An Italian journalist once described him as ‘growing a few inches’ when presented with the trickiest of situations and it so often seemed to be the case when, on the odd occasion, he may have looked beaten by a player, Nesta was the one to salvage the game.
A famous Milan fan and journalist Carlo Pellegatti dubbed the defender as ‘Tempesta Perfetta’ (the Perfect Storm), a name which perfectly describes his persona.
Rough and warrior-like around the edges, it is at the centre where stillness prevails; paralleling that to his position on the field and the influence he has when conducting his squad from the backline.
His precise, yet elegant tackling, his calm demeanor which oozed serenity and confidence from the backline right up to the front, and albeit one of few spoken words; Nesta was heard and felt by many with his dominating presence.
His next destination is yet to be known, but wherever the footballing world may take him, there is little doubt that the third chapter of his career will be another successful one to add to the books, but he will never forget his decade at the club.
“I’ll miss the people at Milanello who have been here on a daily basis for the last 10 years. I’ll also leave behind historic friendships with Massimo Ambrosini, Clarence Seedorf, Andrea Pirlo, Christian Abbiati, Paolo Maldini – people who I have a bond with,” he continued in his final press conference.
Despite being born into a Laziale family Nesta was adopted by the Milanisti faithful as one of their own, and he will forever go down into the Golden Era of calcio’s greats.
There is barely a Milan without Paolo Maldini, now there is even less of a Milan without Nesta. Lazio, Milan and Calcio have lost a true Football Legend.