Baresi discusses UCL return, Fondazione work, Tomori’s impact and attachment to Milan

By Oliver Fisher -

AC Milan icon Franco Baresi has discussed a number of topics related to the club, including the return to the Champions League and plans for the future.

Baresi spoke to The Times and began by previewing what should be an excellent spectacle between two European heavyweights on Wednesday night as the Rossoneri play their first Champions League game in seven years.

“We can’t wait to play against them in their beautiful stadium that is Anfield and before their fans. We are impatient to play there. We’re super happy to be back in the Champions League. It’s exhilarating to be in this important group [also with Atletico Madrid and Porto]. We’re excited to play these teams, and first up is Liverpool,” he said.

Baresi may have retired over 20 years ago now, but he is a man who lives and breathes football, especially his beloved Rossoneri.

“It’s always emotional whenever I walk into San Siro. I still love football. I love watching games at the stadium. I’d love to get down to the pitch and play. But it is not possible, unfortunately.”

As one of the game’s greatest ever defenders, people will always listen to what he says when it comes to assessments of other centre-backs, and Baresi was asked for his thoughts on Fikayo Tomori who signed initially on loan from Chelsea and then permanently this summer.

“Tomori has real quality. He’s really good at imposing himself, showing his aggression and his anticipation and concentration. He’s also very quick which is really important when recovering a ball.”

“Football is art. But for Italy there is an art in defending. Defending has always been part of Italian football culture. Our history says Italy is usually better at defending than attacking. But during the Euros I noticed this jump, this difference in the way Italy were playing, a different quality.

So even though we were still good at defensive football, with the older defenders like Bonucci and Chiellini, we were also helped by the quality of the younger players, who were able to offer more offensively, especially with their technical quality. We were able to put the opposing team in more danger.

“Football’s evolving, Italian football culture’s evolved, and Italy has been able to change and keep pace, and we saw that during the Euros with the national team. It surprised Italian people and everyone in Europe also.”

Baresi was not only a fantastic ‘stopper’ style centre-back – showing his fantastic awareness and instinct for the art of defending – but he was also a quarter-back of attacks. But which did he prefer doing?

“I liked both. I liked being ‘concrete’ and solid on the pitch and I also liked my technical quality. But I knew how important defending was, and whenever I played against a great player that would stimulate me to play even better.”

Baresi also wants to show that Milan are a part of the community, and the club were thrust into action during the pandemic to assist those who needed it most in northern Italy.

“I am particularly proud of the work Fondazione Milan did to help people in need,” Baresi says. “Fondazione Milan was founded in 2003 and has always been active in protecting the community. I think of AC Milan as a family. It is not just about the club’s great history, to me it is very personal and special.”

On playing under Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello at Milan, he added:  “Without me, these coaches wouldn’t have won anything in their career at AC Milan. No, joking aside, Sacchi and Capello were great coaches, fundamental for the team, so even if we had great players we still needed great coaches to guide us. They were able to share their personality and coaching with us players.”

The fans still consider Baresi to be a living embodiment of everything that Milan stands for, to the extent a giant red and black flag with a white No.6 emblazoned on it is waved at every home game.

“It is wonderful to see that flag. “It’s special. It’s great to see this affection from the fans. The fans have been so good to me for so many years. It means I’ve done something good eventually in my career. People don’t forget.

“They have an emotional attachment with those who’ve given 100 per cent for the club. They will always have a special passion for these players. It’s definitely harder to see one player staying his whole career at one club for 15-20 years but that’s because football’s changed.

On leaving San Siro in the future, Baresi concluded: “It will be emotional. We’re still waiting on the green light from the municipality of Milan. We’re not quite there yet. The hope is to have a new and modern stadium for all AC Milan fans.”

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