Opinion: The Greatest AC Milan XI
Opinion: The Greatest AC Milan XI

If there is one club that makes you spoilt for choice when picking an all-time best team, it is AC Milan.

The Rossoneri are easily one of the most decorated clubs in world football, and have had so many stars adorn the famous red-and-black. One just has to take a look at the era under Silvio Berlusconi to find teams that achieved great things for Milan, such as the 1994 Champions League winning team and the repeat in 2003 and 2007.

I have decided to deploy a 3-5-2 formation for this team based on the eleven players I feel best represent the best Milan sides. With that being said, lets get straight into it!

Goalkeeper

This was a tough decision between Sebastiano Rossi and Dida, two goalkeepers symbolic of great eras for the club.

However, with Rossi being part of the legendary back-line that included Alessandro Costacurta, Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini and Mauro Tassotti, the team went on a 58-match unbeaten run under Fabio Capello in what was the most dominant spell the club has known.

Rossi made his debut in Milan's 1991 win over Internazionale on the 24th March, and went on to beat Dino Zoff's record by amassing 929 minutes without conceding a goal.

Honours: 

UEFA Champions League (1): 1993–94
UEFA Super Cup (2): 1990, 1994
Intercontinental Cup (1) : 1990
Serie A (5): 1991–92, 1992–93, 1993–94, 1995–96, 1998–99
Supercoppa Italiana (3): 1992, 1993, 1994

Defenders

Alessandro Nesta

This central defender was one of my idols growing up. An absolutely class player who just seemed to get better with age, Alessandro Nesta is also symbolic of a very successful era in Milan's history.

Having joined from Lazio for around €30 million following the Rome club's financial struggles, he quickly became a starter and racked up well over 300 appearances for the club in all competitions, scoring 10 goals.

Of course he was also a great servant to Italian football, winning the 2006 FIFA World Cup and racking up over 70 caps for his country.

Honours:

Serie A (2): 2004, 2011.
Coppa Italia (1): 2002–03
Supercoppa Italiana (2): 2004, 2011.
UEFA Champions League (2): 2002–03, 2006–07.
UEFA Super Cup (2): 2003, 2007.
FIFA Club World Cup (1): 2007.

Franco Baresi

This man and the next man are two players that can be considered pure legends due to their one-club status.

Baresi may not have been the quickest of players, but he made up for it by being one of the, if not the, most complete defender to ever grace the Earth.

He made his professional debut aged just 17 and went on to be part of the aforementioned back-line consisting of Costacurta, Maldini and Tassotti. At 22-years-old he became captain of the great club and went on to play 532 games for the Rossoneri.

Honours:

Intercontinental Cup (football) (2): 1989, 1990.
European Cup/Champions League (3): 1988–89, 1989–90, 1993–94.
UEFA Super Cup (3): 1989, 1990, 1994.
Serie A (6): 1978–79, 1987–88, 1991–92, 1992–93, 1993–94, 1995–96.
Supercoppa Italiana (4): 1988, 1992, 1993, 1994.

Maldini and Baresi, rocks of the Milan defence. Image: multimedia.quotidiano.net

Paolo Maldini

For me, this is the best defender that has ever lived and will ever live. Maldini embodies everything to do with AC Milan and Italian football.

A true wonder to watch, Maldini was known for his bravery and fighting spirit, but also his awareness, composure and general class on the ball.

With 902 total appearances for the club, he is widely regarded to be the best ever servant to AC Milan. As Zlatan Ibrahimovic once said: "Maldini was the best and toughest defender I ever faced. He had everything: he was a complete defender, who was strong, intelligent, and an excellent man-marker."

Honours:

Serie A (7): 1987–88, 1991–92, 1992–93, 1993–94, 1995–96, 1998–99, 2003–04.
Coppa Italia (1): 2002–03.
Supercoppa Italiana (5): 1988, 1992, 1993, 1994, 2004.
European Cup/Champions League (5): 1988–89, 1989–90, 1993–94, 2002–03, 2006–07.
UEFA Super Cup (5): 1989, 1990, 1994, 2003, 2007.
Intercontinental Cup (2): 1989, 1990.
FIFA Club World Cup (1): 2007.

His number three shirt is also retired by the club, although they have stated that should one of his children ever play for the team, they can use it.

Midfielders

Gianni Rivera

On the right side of the midfield five, we have one of the best Italian playmakers to ever play the game in Giovanni Rivera.

He played over 500 times for Milan, scoring 160 goals as he quickly gained a reputation for being a dynamic driving force in the machine that brought Italian football alive in the 60s and 70s. Smart in possession with an eye for a pass and a good set piece taker, Rivera was a threat in any game on many different levels.

In 2004, Pelé chose Rivera as part of the FIFA 100 Greatest Living Footballers, and he placed 35th in the UEFA Golden Jubilee Poll, which demonstrates how highly rated he was by fellow professionals.

Honours:

Italian League (3): 1961–62, 1967–68, 1978–79
Coppa Italia (4): 1966–67, 1971–72, 1972–73, 1976–77
UEFA Cup Winners' Cup (2): 1967–68, 1972–73
European Cup (2): 1962–63, 1968–69
Intercontinental Cup (1): 1969

The legendary Dutch trio: Gullit, van Basten and Rijkaard. Image: lookoflegends.blogspot.com

Ruud Gullit

Part of the legendary Dutch trio which included Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit was a crucial part of one of the club's most storied periods.

Gullit actually began his career as a sweeper, before being moved further up the field due to his emerging skill-set as a great visionary. He joined the club from PSV Eindhoven for what was then a world record transfer fee, and went on to make 171 appearances for the club, scoring 56 goals.

His debut was in a 5-0 win over Bari at San Siro. Ruud has been a fan favourite ever since, and achieved greatness with the club with 12 trophies.

Honours:

Serie A (3): 1987-88, 1991-92, 1992-93.
Supercoppa Italiana (3): 1988, 1992, 1994.
European Cup (2): 1988-89, 1989-90.
UEFA Super Cup (2): 1989, 1990.
Intercontinental Cup (2): 1989, 1990.

Frank Rijkaard

Another one of the legendary Dutch trio who manages to crack the top eleven is Rijkaard.

Arrigo Sacchi transformed Rijkaard into a holding player who was crucial to the system that brought the club much success. One of the most consistent midfielders of all time, he played with effortless class and was the engine room to the team.

He scored 16 goals in 142 appearances for the club in a five-year spell, and is widely regarded as one of the best Dutch footballers of all time.

Intercontinental Cup (2): 1989, 1990.
UEFA Champions League (2): 1988–89, 1989–90.
UEFA Super Cup (2): 1989, 1990.
Serie A (2): 1991–92, 1992–93.
Supercoppa Italiana (2): 1988, 1992.

Nils Liedholm

Also in the midfield is Swedish man Nils Liedholm, from an older generation of Milan greats.

He made his debut in 1949, and played 394 times for Milan, scoring 89 goals. Best known for being the creative spark for Gunnar Nordahl, Liedholm was a fantastic playmaker who had an eye for a pass and a goal.

He was one of the fittest players of his time. He practiced 100 metre sprints, 3 kilometre runs, javelin, shot put and high jump twice a week, allowing him to play until he was 40 years old.

Honours:

Serie A (4): 1950-51, 1954-55, 1956-57, 1958-59.

Kaka

On the left side of midfield I have put one of the greatest players of the modern era.

Ricardo Izecson Dos Santos Leite, known as "Kaka", led a generation of entertaining Milan sides. Kaká has been described on the FIFA website as having the "capacity to glide almost effortlessly past opponents, provide defence-splitting passes and score consistently from distance".

The 2007 Ballon d'Or winner, he transformed Milan into one of the best teams to watch in world football and was part of the 2007 Champions League winning team. He scored 95 goals in 270 games for the club and is still regarded as the best attacking midfielder to play for Milan.

Honours:

Serie A (1): 2003–04.
Supercoppa Italiana (1): 2004.
UEFA Champions League (1): 2006–07.
UEFA Super Cup (1): 2007.
FIFA Club World Cup (1): 2007.

Strikers

Marco van Basten

One of the biggest "wow factor" players the world has ever seen, van Basten spent the best of his playing years with the Rossoneri where he quickly became a club icon.

Former boss Capello summed the player up brilliantly, saying: "Marco was the greatest striker I ever coached. His early retirement was a mortal misfortune for him, for football, and for Milan."

An impressive ratio of 124 goals for the club in 201 games; van Basten was a poacher and a clinical finisher but also a man capable of doing the unthinkable and scoring some wonderful goals.

He could have had even more goals, but as mentioned above his career was cut short by a re-occurring ankle injury.

Honours:

Serie A (4): 1987–88, 1991–92, 1992–93, 1993–94.
Supercoppa Italiana (4): 1988, 1992, 1993, 1994.
European Cup (2): 1988–89, 1989–90.
European Supercup (2): 1989, 1990.
Intercontinental Cup (2): 1989, 1990.

Gunnar Nordahl

Five times super Swede, Gunnar Nordahl won the Capocannoniere title five times, scoring 35 goals in the ‘49/’50 season, 34 in ‘50/’51, 26 in ‘52/’53, 23 in ‘53/’54 and 27 in ‘54/’55.

This tells you everything you need to know about one of the most prolific finishers Italian football has ever seen. Nordahl transferred to AC Milan in 1949. Later, he would join up with his national team strike partners, Gunnar Gren and Liedholm to form the renowned Gre-No-Li combination.

He scored 221 goals in 268 appearances for the Rossoneri. Nobody has come close to this level of goalscoring prowess. His records will stand for a long time.

Honours:

Italian Serie A (2): 1950-51, 1954-55
Coppa Italia (4):
Latin Cup (2): 1950-51, 1955-56

Liedholm, Nordahl and Gren: the Swedish trio. Image: Magliarossonera.it

Strong bench

Some amazing players haven't quite made the cut, but definitely deserve a mention.

Dida would be the reserve goalkeeper, while Tassotti and Costacurta would be defensive reinforcements. Midfielders Clarence Seedorf and Ronaldinho would provide firepower, while strikers Pippo Inzaghi and Andriy Shevchenko have been unlucky not to be included.

Such an incredible group of players to choose from, making this a really tough but enjoyable challenge.

Hopefully, plenty more great players will grace the shirt, making this an even more debatable topic down the line.

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