AC Milan possess an international pedigree that many other clubs in Italy and across Europe can only envy.
With seven European Cups/Champions Leagues, two European Cup Winners’ Cups, five European Super Cups, and five Intercontinental Cups/FIFA Club World Cups, they have been Italian football’s greatest representatives.
There have been some lean spells too. They failed to win any domestic titles from the 1910s until the 1940s and they spent two seasons in Serie B during the 1980s before Silvio Berlusconi turned them into a world power.
Remarkably, the Rossoneri have become a shadow of their former selves. Berlusconi sold the club in April 2017 but new owners have been struggling to bring the fallen giants back to their former glory.
Cricket and football Devils
When they were formed in December 1899 by two Englishmen named Alfred Edwards and Herbert Kilpin, AC Milan started as both a cricket and football club. Cricket did not gain much popularity but football certainly did. Edwards was the first president of the club and Kilpin was the first captain as well as coach.
It was Kilpin that inspired the Diavolo nickname and the Rossonero jersey colours when he said, “We will be a squad of devils. Our colours will be red like fire and black like the fear we will invoke in our opponents.”
AC Milan won their first Italian championship in 1901 and won it twice more that decade in 1906 and 1907 when it then became known as the Prima Divisione.
A disagreement between AC Milan members prompted the formation of Inter in 1908. Sections of the club wanted Milan to focus on Italians while others wanted to welcome all nationalities, hence the formation of the Biscione.
The Rossoneri were also seen as the club of the working class whereas the Nerazzurri were considered to be the club of the bourgeoisie. It was on January 10, 1909 that the first official derby was played and AC Milan emerged with a 3-2 victory, signalling the beginning of an everlasting city rivalry.
Gre-No-Li break title drought
Scandinavian teams starred at the 1948 London Olympics and Sweden won the Gold Medal after defeating Yugoslavia 3-1. AC Milan purchased Swedish centre-forward Gunnar Nordahl in January 1949 while his compatriots Gunnar Gren and Nils Liedholm joined in the summer.
The Swedes were known as Gre-No-Li and they played together at Milan for four seasons, winning Serie A in 1950/51 (their first league title in 44 years), and the 1951 Latin Cup, which was a forerunner to the European Cup. The Diavolo also scored over 100 goals in the Italian league in each of the first two seasons the Swedish forwards played together.
Nordahl went on to become the club’s greatest goalscorer in Serie A with 210 goals and he holds the league record for the most Capocannoniere titles with five. Liedholm retired as a player in 1961 but coached the club in three spells, winning the Serie A title in 1978/79.
Maldini dynasty begins
In 1954, AC Milan purchased a young defender called Cesare Maldini from Triestina and he went on to win countless honours with the Rossoneri, also captaining the side to the European Cup in 1962/63.
Little did he know that his son Paolo would go on to play for the club from 1985 until 2009 and his grandson Daniel would make his senior debut in 2019/20.
The early European Cups
AC Milan adapted quickly to European football, reaching the semi-finals of the 1955/56 European Cup and then finishing runners-up two years later, but they truly established themselves as a European force in the 1960s.
The Rossoneri became the first Italian team to win the European Cup in 1963 when they defeated Portuguese giants Benfica in the final and they won it again six years later, humiliating a young Ajax Amsterdam side in the final 4-1. They also won the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1967/68 and 1972/73.
On the bench was the shrewd tactician Nereo Rocco. Although Inter coach Helenio Herrera made catenaccio famous (or infamous), Rocco is largely seen as the inventor of the defensive tactic. Despite this, he knew how to set a team up to attack when he had the talent at his disposal.
Italo-Brazilian Jose Altafini was a prolific forward in the early 1960s, who scored 14 goals in that 1962/63 European Cup campaign, but the star of the Milan sides of the 60s and 70s was the graceful Italian playmaker Gianni Rivera, who was considered to be “The Golden Boy” of Italian football and won the Ballon d’Or in 1969.
Totonero rocks Italian football
Things seemed to be going fine in the late 1970s at AC Milan. They had won their 10th Scudetto in 1978/79, and they discovered a young defender called Franco Baresi, who would later go on to reach legend status with the club.
In 1980, Italian football was shaken by the Totonero match-fixing scandal. The main instigator was Rossoneri president Felice Colombo, who was banned for life from football, and three Diavolo players were also suspended.
AC Milan were demoted to Serie B and despite returning to the top flight in 1981/82, they were relegated on merit at the end of that campaign.
Berlusconi buys the Rossoneri
The Totonero scandal had a damaging effect on AC Milan and they were on the brink of bankruptcy when media magnate Silvio Berlusconi acquired the club in Feburary 1986.
Berlusconi and his right-hand man Adriano Galliani wasted no time in revolutionising the squad and improving the club facilities but the Rossoneri were not fighting for the Serie A title in the first full season of his presidency. Elimination from the Coppa Italia by Serie B club Parma prompted him to sack coach Nils Liedholm near the end of the season.
Sacchi and Capello take AC Milan to the pinnacle
Fabio Capello replaced Liedholm in the latter stages of the 1986/87 season but it was the coach of that Parma side which stunned AC Milan in the Coppa Italia that took over for the following campaign.
The idealistic and prophetical Arrigo Sacchi was seen as a nobody in calcio but that all changed after four memorable seasons in charge. Berlusconi made more purchases including the Dutch internationals Ruud Gullit – for a world record transfer – and Marco van Basten and they won the Serie A title in 1987/88.
Frank Rijkaard joined his Dutch teammates in the 1988/89 season and the Rossoneri dominated the international stage, winning back-to-back European Cups, European Super Cups, and Intercontinental Cups. The apotheosis was the 1988/89 European Cup semi-final second leg, when the Diavolo annihilated Spanish giants Real Madrid 5-0 in Milan.
While the Dutch trio earned plenty of plaudits, the Italian defensive quartet of Mauro Tassotti, Alessandro Costacurta, Franco Baresi, and Paolo Maldini kept things tight at the back.
Once Sacchi left at the end of the 1990/91 season, the pragmatic Capello took the job permanently for five seasons, winning four Italian league titles and the 1993/94 Champions League, when they dismantled a star-studded Barcelona side 4-0 in the final. Daniele Massaro scored twice but the star of the show was the mercurial Montenegrin Dejan Savicevic, who scored the third goal with an audacious lob.
Ancelotti returns as coach
Carlo Ancelotti was a star midfielder in Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan side and he returned to the club in 2001 as coach.
He had an incredible squad to work with throughout the decade. He had the evergreen Maldini in defence alongside Alessandro Nesta and Cafu, young Italians Gennaro Gattuso and Andrea Pirlo in midfield alongside experienced foreign stars Rui Costa and Clarence Seedorf, and Ukrainian striker Andriy Shevchenko was scoring goals for fun beside Italian poacher Filippo Inzaghi.
With Ancelotti at the helm, AC Milan defeated Juventus on penalties in an all-Italian Champions League Final in 2003 and won the 2003/04 Serie A title. They squandered a 3-0 half-time lead when they lost to Liverpool on penalties in the 2005 Champions League Final but they got their revenge on the English side in 2007. Brazilian midfielder Kaka had arrived after the 2003 triumph but he was instrumental to their victory four years later.
Berlusconi leaves for good
Despite winning the Serie A title in 2010/11, AC Milan were showing signs of decline. A lot of stars from the 2000s were retiring but key players like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva also had to be sold. Vice-president Adriano Galliani signed a plethora of players on free transfers but they did not make the desired impact on results.
In April 2017, Silvio Berlusconi sold the club to Chinese businessman Yonghong Li, but he did not last very long either. Li had borrowed money from American hedge fund Elliot Management Corporation and failed to keep up with payments. The hedge fund seized control off the Chinese businessman in July 2018 but so far, Paul Singer and his cohort have not been able to bring the Rossoneri back to the top yet.