Category Archives: The Wall of Legends

The Wall of Legends: Clarence Seedorf

Bursting onto the scene at 16 years of age Clarence Seedorf was already breaking records, this time he was the youngest player to ever play for Ajax’s senior squad. He had three successful years in Holland winning a Champions League and back-to-back league titles in ’94 & ’95 and two personal accolades: Dutch Talent of the Year ’93 & ’94. Such personal achievements are great but also when put into perspective seem even greater, other young players in Seedorf’s Ajax team alone were Van der Sar, F. De Boer, Rijkaard, Davids, Overmars, Kanu and Kluivert… Seedorf stood out from this golden crop of players and one one of the first to explore pastures anew.

Clarence Seedorf, Patrick Kluivert, Edgar Davids and Overmars celebrating Ajax win 1995
Clarence arrived in Genoa and played for Sampdoria during his first year in Serie A, another great team at the time who were more than happy to welcome the Dutchman. Seedorf only played there for one year before being poached by Spanish giants, Real Madrid. His time in Spain was again successful, in three years there he won another Champions League and a league title. After falling down the ranks at Madrid when new manager Hiddink took over he left to go back to Italy. Inter Milan paid heavily for the Dutchman’s services hoping that he would help bring them trophies as he had done so far his entire career. Sadly for both parties involved this did not happen, Inter were still in a dry spell despite big name and money signings. Seedorf swiftly moved to the other side of the city after rumours that he had been sleeping with Ronaldo’s wife had made the national news and everyone knew apart it from Il Fenomeno. Inter had to make a choice: Ronaldo or Seedorf… They sold the Dutchman but also lost Ronaldo shortly after.

Clarence Seedorf captaining Milan LegendAfter transferring to AC Milan he found himself again amongst champions and winners. Behind him he had the likes of Maldini and Nesta and in front of him Shevchenko… It was a team ready to win and that it did. Seedorf won his third Champions League with Milan making him the only player ever to win three Champions Leagues or more with different clubs. He also won league titles and cups with Milan. In the summer of 2012 the club announced that they would not be renewing Seedorf’s contract along with a whole mass of others. It was the end of an era for the club. Clarence took his time and weighed up offers which were coming in from all angles and finally decided to sign for Botafogo in Brazil. The deal was a massive coup for the club and they made Seedorf the highest ever paid non-brazilian to play in the league – he signed a two year contract. It took him only four games to open his scoring account with a fantastic freekick. Sadly, this will be the Dutchman’s final adventure.

Clarence Seedorf has had a fantastically unique career which very few will ever emulate, he is truly one of the elite players to have ever played the game. A champion from the very beginning.

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The Wall of Legends: Alessandro Nesta

Today marked a sad moment in Serie A, Alessandro Nesta declared this is his last season in Italian football. Born and raised in Rome, Alessandro Nesta played a club affiliated with Roma and was scouted from a very young age. Roma desperately wanted to sign Alessandro but Nesta’s father turned down Roma’s offer and let Lazio coach his boy as the family were huge Lazio fans. Joining their academy at the age of nine Alessandro like most young players didn’t have a set position, yet. As he grew older it became apparent that he was to play in defence.

Young Nesta

Nesta who was still in the young team first came to the attention of Lazio fans for all of the wrong reasons, in a training session in 1994 he went in for a tackle with Paul Gasgoigne and broke his leg. Dino Zoff, the Lazio manager at the time, came to the young man’s defence and clarified that the challenge was fine but it simply was bad luck on Gazza’s part. Three years later Alessandro was already Lazio’s team captain, his performances and leadership were already years ahead of him. The young Roman, a season later lead his men to victory in the Coppa Italia final, their first for 40 years, against AC Milan where he scored the winning goal. Success at his boyhood club did not end there, the year after lifting the Coppa Italia he helped Lazio win the UEFA Cup Winners Cup in it’s final year – Lazio are the eternal holders of the Cup Winners Cup, as a result. At the pinnacle of Lazio’s recent years Nesta guided them to a Scudetto in 1999/00 under the reign of Sven Goran Erikson. Lazio sadly were forced to sell Nesta due to financial reasons on deadline day in 2002/03. He was now a Milan player.

Success at Lazio

Nesta’s time at Milan was even more showered with titles than his time at Lazio.  In his first season he won the Champions League, the fans loved him. In his time at the club he won two league titles, two Champions Leagues, two UEFA Super Cups, an Italian Super Cup, an Italian Cup, two League Super Cups and a FIFA Club world Cup. Even in his final season in Serie A he was pulling out performances of the highest level, most notably in the games against Barcelona in the Champions League – the game he played when they drew 2-2 at the San Siro was simply a masterclass in defending.

Nesta’s international career spanned for a golden period of 11 years. He made his first team debut in 1996 after having won the U21 European Championship and retired shortly after winning the World Cup in 2006 due to constant injury. Injury had plagued Nesta’s career and despite being part of the World Cup winning team he didn’t make it past the group stages and watched Italy win the tournament from the bench. In 2008 he suffered a huge set back which put him out for an entire season, many claimed his career was finished but Nesta remained focused. He returned the following season and played for another three years for Milan.

Milan

Alessandro was an agile defender who could carry the ball forward from a young age as he played in various positions up until breaking into the first team. His pace helped him along with the timing and anticipation of his tackling which was second to none. Even as he grew older and was not as fast as he once was his anticipation and reading of the game more than made up for it. In a recent documentary he pays homage to all off his managers through the years and says how each one had an influence on him even all the way back to his very first coach when he was 4 years old.

A true footballing great who was synonymous with the number 13 shirt. Alessandro Nesta is bowing out at the right time; with grace and dignity. In his press conference in which he declared that he would be leaving Italian football he stated: “I don’t want to wait for my turn on my bench… If I don’t feel important [within the club] I’d rather stay at home”.  A natural born leader and champion, a good man and most notably – the last of a golden generation of Italian defenders. Alessandro Nesta hangs up his boots in Italy and it is presumed that he will embark on a new journey over-seas, most likely in the MLS. Good luck to him, no doubt he will be a star there as he has been in Italy.

Nesta tackling Zidane

Along with Nesta’s faultless trophy collection, he also has some excellent individual titles which truly highlight his pedigree:

– Serie A Young Player of the Year: 1998

– Serie A Defender of the Year: 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003

 

The Wall of Legends: Dennis Bergkamp

Like most Dutch footballing Gods, Dennis Bergkamp was a graduate of Ajax’s footballing academy. He joined the club as a boy and was handed his professional debut at the age of 17 in 1986 by none other than Johan Cruyff. During his time at Ajax he failed to impress the coaching staff due his lack of strength and aggression but it was hard work and his youth performances which caught Cruyff’s eye and on selecting him all he had to say was: “Just look at the talent.”

Dennis won various trophies with Ajax, including a league title, two domestic cups, a European Cup Winners Cup and a UEFA Cup as well as winning Dutch footballer of the year in 1992 and 1993. He played in his “natural” position, behind the front men, yet still managed to score 122 in 239 games and finished top goal scorer in the league three seasons in a row. The young man’s talents had clubs all over Europe wanting his services.

Bergkamp parted with Ajax in the summer of 1993 where he would make a move to Italy. His coach and mentor, Cruyff, tried to convince him to rejoin him at Barcelona but Dennis wanted to join Serie A as he considered it to be the best league in the world at the time. It is also worth noting that a few other Dutchmen hadn’t done too bad there a few years before… He signed for Inter Milan in a double player deal worth £10.4m – he was valued at £7.1m. An exciting move for both parties, Inter had signed the 23 year old dubbed to succeed Marco Van Basten as “the world’s most potent striker” and he was very happy to join the club. In his first season he helped Inter lift the UEFA Cup with him being the tournament’s top scorer. Sadly, Inter’s  form along with his performances were not too good domestically. Bergkamp was played out of position in a front three and was limited to only 52 appearances in his two seasons there, along with a bad relationship with Italy’s media he decided it was time to leave. Despite the fact that people may look at Bergkamp’s time in Italy as wasted or unproductive he says: “Italy was good for my development. I learned to be more professional, learned to play against two or three defenders, and to play with players who are there for themselves rather than for the team.”

Regardless of torrid two seasons in Italy Arsenal decided to open their chequebook and splash out on a record (at the time) signing of £7.5m to bring the Dutchman to Highbury. It was a radical move as Bergkamp’s style of play did not fit Arsenal’s current style of play under Rioch. It took Bergkamp a while to adapt to the English game and he didn’t score in his first seven games which had the media immediately on his back. Dennis scored a brace against Southampton in September 1995 and never looked back, he finished the season with 11 goals in 33 appearances for the club.

It was the arrival of Arsène Wenger in September 1996 which helped Bergkamp achieve his potential, the manager’s preferred style of play suited the Dutchman and it would soon become very evident. That season he featured less but was more efficient in his play and to the team; laying on 13 assists for team-mates as well as scoring 12 league goals. As the seasons went on Bergkamp’s class showed in his link-up play between midfield and attack. He would play off a front man and weave magical passes into whoever was lucky enough to play with him.

Although in his younger years Bergkamp was a goal scorer he much preferred to be the provider, he says: “The pleasure of scoring goals is known, but for me the pleasure of the assist came close. It’s like solving a puzzle. I always had a picture in my head of how things would look two or three seconds later. I could calculate it. There’s a tremendous pleasure in doing something that someone else couldn’t see.”

Bergkamp was one of the only constant pieces in a golden decade of football for Arsenal. He orchestrated play like no other man could, his deft touches, explosive pace, close control and incredible technique made him not only a legend at Arsenal but also in the Premier League. At Arsenal he helped the club to three Premier League titles and three FA Cups as well as picking up many personal awards along the way.

#winning

I was finding it hard to give the man a fitting closing statement as I am and always will be in awe of him. I find it hard to string words together when describing him. Arsenal do a simple, yet great job of it: “You could fill a page with a list of outstanding goals scored by him. You could fill two pages with a list of the goals that had their genius in his vision. And you could fill a dictionary with a list of superlatives used to describe his 11-year career with Arsenal. Dennis Bergkamp is quite simply a legend of the game.”

All 120 Goals:

All 116 Assists:

The Wall of Legends: Paolo Maldini

One of the most successful and respected men to ever to play the game, Paolo Maldini. Sadly, he is a rare and dying breed of footballer. A one club man, a leader, a champion. Such descriptions summarise him perfectly, yet to actually comprehend what this man has achieved is unfathomable.

A young Paolo Maldini makes his club debut as a substitute in the 1984/85 season away against Udinese at the tender age of 16. It was the only appearance he made that season but from the following year onward he was an irreplaceable starter in the Milan XI already donning the infamous number three shirt.

Everyone loves a Panini sticker

In 1987 Arrigo Sacchi became club manager and it was under his reign where Milan entered their glory years with Maldini being a pivotal corner stone. That season he got his first taste of glory, winning the Scudetto and the Coppa Italia. It was a great year for the young man, still only 19, he had won two trophies and earned himself a call-up to the national side – amazingly, the best was yet to come. The following season saw Milan with the Champions League and also retain it the year after! So very few clubs in the history of the game have managed to do that. This Milan side really was something special, a core nucleus of Italian legends with a trio of Dutch masterminds. Their starting XI was frightening: Galli; Tassotti, Maldini, Costacurta, Baresi (c); Donadoni, Ancelotti, Colombo, Rijkaard; Guillit, van Basten.

Milan 1989

In 1991 Fabio Capello took over at Milan, things didn’t change… Milan won the Scudetto and Coppa Italia three times in a row and another Scudetto in Capello’s final season. This side became known as “the invincibles” as they went unbeaten one season and won the league four times in five years along with a Champions league in the 93/94 season under Capello. During that time Maldini went to his second World Cup captaining Italy so close to victory but they fell at the very last hurdle. Italy lost to in the final in a shoot-out which saw Roberto Baggio dramatically sky his penalty which granted Brazil the win. If Italy had won that it would have resulted Maldini making a complete clean swoop of all the titles that year. Sadly, this was the closest he was going to get. That year also saw Maldini arrive third in the Ballon d’Or award, respectively.

Il Capitano

As the years went on Maldini was recognised as one of, if not the best defender in the world. He played most of his time at left-back but was also extremely adept to playing in a central role. In 1997-98 he became club captain after inheriting it from another great, Franco Baresi; an idol of Maldini’s and he was extremely crucial in the development of his career, as was that entire back line of Milan. From this point onward Maldini was affectionately known and referred to by many as Il Capitano.

Milan’s glory days were effectively over, they were no longer a dominant side in the European footballing scene but still a massive club, nonetheless. Maldini won three more Scudetti, two Coppa Italias and he also led his club to three Champions League finals, winning two of them. The unsuccessful effort being the game against Liverpool, arguably the most exciting final of all time.

Maldini’s playing career spanned over 25 years with over 1,000 appearances in all competitions – in return he has 26 titles to his name. Five of those being Champions League winners medals… The only things missing from his trophy cabinet are World Cup and European winners medals, instead he has runners-up in both. The simple fact that you look at that collection and the only fault you can point out is that he only didn’t win a World Cup which just goes to show the sheer excellence of this man and his glistening career.

Maldini on the water and orange slices at Milan academy

Upon eventual retirement from the game his club decided to retire his shirt number as a mark of respect to the great man. They have also stated that the shirt number may come back into play if one of his children become footballers for the club and decide to carry their father’s number. This isn’t at all wide of the mark as he has two young boys, both in the Milan academy. Paolo’s father was also a Milan great, Cesare Maldini, who won the Champions League with the club in 1963. A fun fact, Paolo lifted the Champions League 40 years after his father did, both as club captains. The Maldini blood line runs deep in this club as does their love for it. Paolo Maldini, an intelligent defender of the highest quality and maybe the best the world has ever seen, one of his  former Coaches, Fabio Capello agrees with me and when questioned about the great man, he said: “Maldini? He is simply the best defender in the world.”

The Wall of Legends: Pavel Nedved

Most famous for his years in Italy, Pavel Nedved was undoubtably one of the greatest players of his generation. Born in Czechoslovakia, it was in his nation’s capital where he started his professional footballing career for Sparta Prague and after an extremely set of eye catching performances in Euro 96 he was a hot European property. Nedved had allegedly already verbally pre-agreed to sign for Dutch side PSV when Lazio came in and highjacked the bid.

Nedved’s time at Lazio brought him much success; he won the Coppa Italia as well as the Supercoppa twice, the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and the UEFA Super cup along with one Serie A title. Following his 5 years at Lazio he moved for a giant transfer fee to Juventus in 2001. It was at this club where he really flourished as a super star.

A young Nedved celebrates with teammates

He picked up the number 11 jersey at Juventus after his reported £26m move from the Italian capital. Pavel had some big boots to fill upon arrival as the money from his transfer came from the sale of a certain Zinadine Zidane who had just left for Madrid.

Nedved’s ability was clear for all to see, he was seemingly ambidextrous – able to score wonderful goals with both feet, effortlessly. He was a player who gave his whole heart to his team, he would run himself into the ground for his teammates and the fans knew this. Nedved did not disappoint after putting on the bianconero of Juventus, he filled in for Zidane both on and off the pitch. Not to say that the fans did not care that they no longer had the frenchman but Nedved was more than a suitable replacement. He won the Scudetto in his first year and he, along with the club, went from strength to strength. In his time in Turin he won titles and missed out on winning the Champions League after Juventus lost on penalties to Milan and he was suspended for the final so had to painfully watch on as he team lost. It was a shame as the game was flat and dull, a player with his ability would have had the potential to change the entire outcome of the match.

Nedved won the prestigious Pallon d’Or in 2003 after the season where he helped Juventus get to the Champions League final and deservedly so. He beat Theirry Henry and Paolo Maldini who were runners up that year, just to put it into perspective if you are somehow unfamiliar with Nedved and his talents.

After the Calciopoli scandal broke and Juventus were relegated in 2006 many stars of that team jumped ship. Pavel was one of the noble few, he stated that he would not be leaving and would help Juventus return to Serie A. When Mourinho took over at Inter he expressed his desire to have Pavel Nedved in his team at Inter but he was not able to convince the Czech star who said that “his heart would never let him play for Inter.” He was fiercely loyal to the Old Lady and to her fans, the statement he released re Mou’s interest in him just certified exactly how devoted he was to the club. Juventus won promotion back to Serie A the following year despite having started with a points deduction on top the punishment of being relegated. He played for another two seasons before Juventus before announcing that he would retire from the game to spend more time with his family. He retired with the ability to play on for another two years at top level, at least.

Nedved’s last game was the perfect setting to bow out on; the game was at Stadio Degli Alpi against his former club, Lazio. As a mark of respect from the club he was given the captains armband for the final game and was substituted just before the end, he received an emotional standing ovation from both sets of fans. A perfect end for a superb footballer. Below, watch a superb video compilation of his great career and an emphatic exit.

The Wall of Legends: Javier Zanetti

Upon my trip to the San Siro on the weekend I witnessed the only blip in this mans perfect Serie A career. Javier Zanetti was sent off for the first time in 543 league appearances… I think this just goes to show what a consummate professional he is. The most humble of footballers and a genuinely great man.

Javier Zanetti was Massimo Moratti’s first signing when he took over Inter Milan in 1995  and 17 seasons later he is arguably still their best and most consistent footballer. More commonly known as a right back but Zanetti is more than able to play on the opposite flank, further up the pitch as a winger and also in the centre of midfield. He has played in almost every position for his club and done so with great effect, he is an extremely versatile footballer which is just one of his great attributes.

"I still remember my first day at Inter. I arrived with a plastic bag with my boots inside."

Pupi” as he is affectionately known in Argentina or more commonly known by adoring Inter fans as “Il Captiano“, he holds all sorts records for club and country. He is the most capped Argentine international of all time, he has made the most appearances in an Inter shirt and the first player to captain an Italian club to a Treble. In his 17 seasons at Inter, he has played under as many coaches and has won 16 trophies in his time there – captaining the team to 15 of those.

Zanetti has no plans to quit football, he holds Inter very close to his heart and has already said he would love to stay on and join the backroom staff once his playing days are over.

It may be hard to believe but off the pitch he is an even greater man than he is on it; Zanetti is involved in much charity work and has his own PUPI foundation which helps social integration for poor children. He pumps much of his money that he has earned playing football back into his come country trying to give back to the people.

I am delighted to welcome in the ever-green Javier Zanetti as the first member to the wall of legends. Having appeared in 93.7% of games for Inter since his arrival this man has been nothing short of a pillar of stability for the club. A role model and idol to many. Javier, I salute you.