Great Calcio Sides: AC Milan 1961-69
AC Milan’s great team of the 60s can be put down to the tactics and knowledge of one man, Nereo Rocco. Under his management, the Rossoneri won two European Cups, two Scudetti, two Cup Winners’ Cups, three Coppa Italia’s and the Intercontinental Cup. Rocco was an innovative coach and one of the first proponents of Catenaccio.
During the 60’s, Milan had four different presidents. For other clubs, this excessive change of leadership might be a de-stabilising factor,but this was no deterrent in an era in which Milan would be successful at home and abroad.
During this period, the team would be built around an array of top class Italian and foreign talent. The main players was the ‘Golden Boy’ Gianni Rivera and tough tackling midfielder/defender Giovanni Trapattoni. Other great names of the era included the Brazilian forward Jose Altafini and Peruvian defender Benitez.
When Rocco took the reigns at Milan in 1961, their rivals Juve were the best in Italy having won back to back Scudetti. However, all that was about to change and in his first stint at Milan between 1961-1963, he conquered all before him.
He began well picking up victories in his first two games and against Vicenza and Catania. Milan’s first loss was away to Bologna before a thrilling Derby win over Inter solidified their position at the top. Milan would lose only five games in the entire season, while winning an incredible 24 times as they won the Scudetto by five points over Inter. Jose Altafini finished as the top scorer with Aurelio Milani on 22 goals. Milan were playing a revolutionary brand of football and the rest of Italy were force to play catch up to Red and Blacks.
The next season Milan set their sight on the biggest prize of all, The European Cup. Milan were always a trend-setter for Italian teams in international competition having won the Latin Cup in 1951 and 1956 as well as coming the closet team to end Real Madrid’s early dominance of the European Cup when they narrowly lost 2-3 in 1958.
Milan announce their intention with a first round hammering of Union Luxembourg 14-0 on aggregate with Altafini scoring eight goals. Milan’s Serie A form suffered as a result of their exploits in Europe, but victories over Ipswich Town, Galatasaray and Dundee meant they arrived at their second final.
The final was to be played at the ‘home of football’, Wembley Stadium for the first time and Milan would face the two time reigning champions Benfica. It turned out to be a classic, and Milan ‘s resolve and determination were at their highest as the Portuguese took the lead in the first half courtesy the ‘Black Pearl’ Eusebio, before Milan hit back through Altafini in the second half who grabbed two goals.
These strikes were his 13th and 14th of the competition and despite incessant pressure from Benfica, Milan held on to the lead and took the trophy to Italy for the first time. Milan’s captain Cesare Maldini held the trophy aloft, a feat which his son Paolo would achieve forty years later also in England at Old Trafford.
Probably reaching his peak and thinking he could do no more Rocco resigned and took over the reigns at Torino. The next few years was a barren period for Milan despite signing the likes of German defender Schiellinger and Brazilian forward Sormani as they would lose to Pele’s Santos in the Intercontinental Cup and had to live in the shadow of il Grande Inter.
During the four year period between 1963-1967, a number of managers were in charge including former playing legend Nils Liedholm. Unfortunately, he had to resign because of illness and Aurelio Silvestri took over and lead Milan to their first ever Coppa Italia in 1967 with victory over Padova by a single goal coming from Brazilian world cup winner Amarildo. However the Scudetto would elude Milan and Rocco was re-appointed in June 1967.
Rocco re-built the team by signing the likes of goalkeeper Fabio Cudicini, midfielders Angelillo of Argentina, Swedish winger Kurt Hamrin and centre forward Prati. Milan won the Scudetto by a massive nine points over Napoli with Prati winning the Capocannoniere with 15 goals.
It was to be a double success for Milan as they would beat Hamburg of Germany to win the Cup Winners Cup for the first time. Kurt Hamrin scored two goals before 20 minutes had even been played in Rotterdam and the Rossonerri were well and truly back amongst Europe’s elite once again.
The next season Milan set their sights on another run at the European Cup. Malmo, Celtic and Manchester United were beaten en route to the final to be played at the Santiago Bernabeau stadium in Madrid. Milan would come up against the inventors of ‘Total Football’, Ajax containing the brilliant Johan Cruyff.
A superb display orchestrated by captain Gianni Rivera included a well taken hat-trick by Prati and another by Brazilian Angelo Sormani saw Milan ran out winners by a commanding scoreline of 4-1. Milan would go on to lift the Intercontinental Cup for the first time following a 4-2 aggregate win over Estudiantes and Rivera would pick up the Ballon D’or award as Europe’s best player.
The club success continued with Rocco into the early 70’s but it would be another 20 years before Milan would be truly dominant again, but the 60’s era was where the legend of the footballing institution known as AC Milan would be built.
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