AC Milan finished sixth in Serie A this season, and in doing so, qualified for Europe for the first time since 2014.
Just let that sink in: Milan, seven-time winners of the European Cup – only Real Madrid have won more. And yet they have had not European football, not even Europa League, for the last three seasons.
Last time they won Serie A was in 2011, and they last conquered Europe four years prior, in 2007. It’s not extreme to say it, but Milan has been in the footballing doldrums for some time now. They can no longer attract the best players in Italy, let along Europe.
But maybe this is the first step, on a long road back to joining the European elite again. But it won’t be achieved overnight.
So let’s take time to look back to when they had no equal. When they reigned supreme. When they ruled Europe.
In 1988/89 season, Milan would meet former winners Steaua Bucharest in the final. The roll call of names on the Milan team sheet now reads as a who’s who of European legends; Maldini, Baresi, Costacurta, Donadoni. As well as the three Dutchman that were as good as any ‘holy trinity’ Europe has ever seen; Gullit, Rijkaard and van Basten.
Milan would crush the Romanian side in a one side 4-0 win. Managed by Ariggo Sachi, who was a relative unknown when hired a couple of hears earlier in 87. Sacchi would use some unorthodox training methods, such as playing a full match without a ball. Instead telling the players where the ball was, so they could respond and position themselves accordingly.
And the formation he used? 4-4-2.
The real standout result of that season in the Europe for Milan actually came in the semi-finals where they would dismantle Real Madrid 6-1 on aggregate, including a 5-0 hammering at the San Siro. This is considered by many to be a real passing of the baton from one superpower to another.
AC would reach the final again the following season, this time against Benfica. Again the team sheet would be very similar to the one that had won a year earlier. In fact, 10 players would start both finals. Again, Milan would win.
This still stands as the last time the European Cup has been successfully defended.
Sacchi would leave in 1991, and was replaced by Fabio Capello. He would lead them to a hat-trick of Serie A titles, including an unbeaten season in 1992. But his finest achievement with Milan would be the Champions League final of 1994.
This would be a very different Milan line-up compared to the back to back wins under Sacchi; van Basten would miss out through injury, ultimately playing his final game for the club in 1993. While Gullit and Rijkaard had been shipped out.
In their places would be players like Marcel Desailly, Zvonimir Boban and Daniele Massaro. In the final in Athens they would be met by Johan Cruyff’s much celebrated Barcelona ‘Dream Team’. Who could boast a line-up that included Romario, Hristo Stoitchkov and Pep Guardiola. The Spanish side were heavy favourites going in the match, a result of them having won their fourth La Liga title in a row. Plus Milan being without some star names , such as van Basten and Baresi, who would miss out through injury and suspension, respectively.
Milan would win 4-0, in what remains the biggest winning margin in a European Cup/Champions League final. It remains a footballing masterclass to this day.
Glory years long ago
Between the years 1989 and 1995, Milan would reach five of the seven European Cup finals, winning three of them. An incredible achievement, put into even greater context by their recent struggles. If they are to ever get back to those dizzy heights, then you feel an awful lot of money will have to be invested in the club.
Until then, you can only hark back to the good old days of the late 80s and early 90s. Where Ac Milan were simply the best.