- Franco Baresi is 60 today (Friday 8 May)
- The legend of AC Milan and Italy is one of the greatest defenders of all time
- He looks back at his career highlights with FIFA.com
He is not the greatest, strongest, strongest or fastest defender, but he is right up there with the best of them. With the possible exception of Franz Beckenbauer, it is difficult to think of a central defender who approached Franco Baresi in terms of intelligence, elegance, determination of position, anticipation and ability to lead the team from the penalty box itself.
In soil catenaccioBaresi is king; a libero who revolutionizes position, a captain who leads by example, and a leader who commands respect without saying much. For 20 years, from 1977 to 1997, this martial arts master remained loyal to one club: AC Milan. And during an international career that spanned 14 years, from 1980 to 1994, he won 81 caps and played a role in some of Italy’s best achievements ever.
FIFA legend, Baresi has some interesting stories to tell when he was 60 years old, not least about the three FIFA World Cup competitions he blessed. To mark his birthday, FIFA.com asking him to look back on his career and give his views on today’s defenders.
FIFA.com: Let’s go back to the beginning, to Spain 1982, when you became world champion without having a minute on the field. What do you remember from the whole experience?
Franco Baresi: I am 22 years old and even though I didn’t play at all, it was an important and vital moment in my career. It was an intense experience for me and I was curious about it all. Here I spend time with true champions who all become legends to my mind. They are my heroes. I had watched the previous World Cup in Argentina very closely and I was fascinated by a team that featured several players I rubbed on my shoulder in 1982, like [Gaetano] Scirea, [Claudio] Infidel, [Antonio] Cabrini, [Marco] Tardelli, [Bruno] Conti, [Giancarlo] Antognoni and [Francesco] Graziani. It was an extraordinary team, both on the pitch and in terms of the character of the players.
What did you learn specifically in watching them lift the Trophy?
We had a slow start to the competition but we finally won the World Cup very empathically, beating the best teams in the world: Brazil, Argentina and West Germany. The whole experience is one of the cornerstones of my career. I try to contribute in one way or another, to help the team during training, but the most important thing is to only be able to watch and learn. Understanding how the team prepares for a big match and staying calm made all the difference in the first few years of my career.
You played the 1990 tournament at home, where Italy came out in the semi-finals despite having 518 minutes in the competition without conceding a goal. What stopped the team from lifting the Cup?
The 1990 World Cup is a completely different story: I am an experienced player and I have been captain for several years at AC Milan, one of the biggest teams in the world of football. I honestly believe that the team deserves to make the Final at least. It was a smart mix of young and more experienced players and I think we have a great tournament. It’s a shame because playing at home is a good opportunity. Sometimes it just comes to a bit of bad luck (Italy goes on penalties to Argentina in the semifinals), which is what we also had in 1994 in another penalty shootout (against Brazil in the Final). It worked differently in 2006, when luck was on our side, but it was sport.
Speaking in 1994, you were injured in the second match, against Norway. Do you think that your World Cup career is over?
There is no question. That was a big blow. I am the captain and I know that is my last World Cup. The atmosphere in the team was amazing. There are a lot of my AC Milan teammates there and Arrigo Sacchi is in charge. He had achieved so much success with the club in previous years. It has all the talent to be a very special tournament and I really feel I can give a great performance. But then fate played its part and I had to leave, leaving my team-mates to do extraordinary work in the face of adversity (ten Italian players beat Norway 1-0 that day).
You underwent knee surgery on June 25. How can you recover on time for the Final on July 17?
(Laugh) I have been telling this story for years but it still seems extraordinary. But it doesn’t really feel that way, because I go through it, day after day, and it’s very intense. One day you wait to go to the theater and you wonder about your career and then you start to recover, slowly but surely, until suddenly you make it to the Finals. I never thought I could play. I received treatment and physiotherapy, thinking that I would go on vacation and that I would be ready for next season. So you can imagine my surprise when I realized that I was ready to play in the World Cup Final.
Do you really feel very fit?
(Laugh) I can never say that I am truly 100 percent. I have several strenuous training sessions and my knees stand well. It’s not too bad and it’s not swollen. It really comes down to a set of factors, because we have players because of injury or suspension. In the end, Sacchi made a bold call to give me a chance.
Is that one of the longest games in your career?
Oh, yes. It was a very, very tense day, and I’m not just talking about the match. I remember the day before, didn’t know whether I would play or not, and waited to find out on the morning of the match. I think all the time about whether I am ready or not, whether my knees hold. All of these things crossed my head, without stopping. When the time came, I was sure I could help the team out, and when the match finally took place I really focused on what I knew would be a very difficult match.
Your three World Cup experiences are very different. How do you add them all up?
They are different and I consider myself very lucky to have played in three World Cups and have made a podium in each of them. That’s not easy, right? Some players have played in four and might win the Cup all the way, but they also have some tough eliminations. The first, second and third finishing isn’t too bad at all. I can not complain (laugh).
As one of the greatest defenders of all time, what do you get from today’s harvest?
Football has changed a lot in the last 15 to 20 years, not only in the field but in its perspective, access to information and the role of social media and all that. I think the way defenders look has also changed over the years. Real soccer fans know how important defenders are and they value them. If I have to say the name, then the person who really stands out is Virgil van Dijk, who shows the qualities, character, and strength that a defender must have to be a successful team leader like Liverpool.
You celebrate your 60th birthday on May 8 and in six decades, you have played together and seen so many great players. Which of them gets a place on the great list of all time Franco Baresi?
I have played with and against so many great players that it was difficult for me to choose. But given everything I learned about football in my life, I would choose two players from each generation who really made their history about the game: Pele and Eusebio – which I remember watching on TV when I was young. young – Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer, then Diego Maradona and Michel Platini, Ronaldo and Marco van Basten, and finally Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Who should do it (laugh).