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Why AC Milan is the most decorated football club in the world

ac milan trophies

Chances are that you have heard about the Real Madrid galacticos and the Barcelona elves invasion, but what you might not have heard is that at the time when this article was written AC Milan is the most internationally decorated football club in the world, winning a record of 14 European trophies (7 UEFA Champions League, 5 UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, 2 UEFA Super Cup) and 4 World titles (3 Intercontinental Cup, 1 FIFA Club World Cup). Don’t take my word for it. Next time you watch AC Milan play in the UEFA Champions League look at the multiple-winner badge on the shirt indicating more than 5 UEFA European Cups won.

What are the reasons that have made AC Milan one of the most successful football club in the world? There are many but I will address two of them: coaching and management.


Over the years, AC Milan has been lead by excellent tacticians who have revolutionized the world of football with their ideas and approach to the game.

Nereo Rocco (1961-1963, 1966-1972) – the catenaccio coach. Rocco is AC Milan’s longest serving coach, managing the club for 459 matches, 323 as head coach and 136 as technical director. He lead Milan to 2 Serie A titles, 2 European Cups, 2 Italian Cups, 2 Cup Winners’ Cups, 1 Intercontinental Cup. Rocco is the first proponent and some say the founder of catenaccio football style that continues to this day in Italy. Catenaccio in Italian means “deadbolt” referring to tight spaces and physical football.

Arrigo Sacchi (1987-1991) – the scientist. Under his tutelage, AC Milan won 1 Serie A, 1 Italian Supercup, 2 European Cups, 2 European Supercups, 2 Intercontinental Cups. Over the years pundits have argued that the success Milan gained during this period was largely attributed to the Dutch trio: Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard. While this is a plausible inference, Franco Baresi, Roberto Donadoni and Paolo Maldini became legends because of Sacchi’s early direct influence.

Fabio Capello (1991-1996, 1997-1998) – the disciplinarian. He brought to Milano 4 Serie A titles, 3 Italian Supercups, 1 UEFA Champions League (runner up 1992–93, 1994–95), 1 UEFA Supercup. Under Capello, Milan remained unbeaten for 58 league games between 19 May 1991 and 21 March 1993. This included an entire season where Milan were unbeaten in Serie A. Capello was unafraid of clamping down on his players, even his leading stars, if he felt they were not pulling their weight for the team. Remember the clash with Di Canio in 1996? The greatest game under his tenure was undoubtedly 1994 CL final. Milan routed Barcelona resoundingly 4-0.

Carlo Ancelotti (2001-2009) – the European. Ancelotti is close to my heart. He coached at a time when I was living, breathing and watching dreams about Milan. For all the milan fans he won 1 Serie A, 1 Italian Supercup, 1 Italian Cup, 2 UEFA Champions League, 2 UEFA Supercups, and 1 FIFA Club World Cup. Carlo was no stranger to Milan, playing in the midfield from 1988 to 1992 under Sacchi. To dive deeper into his football philosophy, read Ancelotti’s autobiography, Preferisco la Coppa (I Prefer the Cup), referring to his Milan’s success in Europe, and lack thereof in Italy.


Some say that Milan’s management is its curse and its blessing. While I cannot argue with that statement, I can certainly paint a picture that might help you to make up your own mind.

Milan has had it’s fair share in the dark ages. Most notably the 1980-1986 era when it was punished to play season 1980-1981 in Serie B due to goalkeeper Enrico Albertosi, midfielder Giorgo Morini, who ironically had a short stint as the Milan coach in 1996, and Stefano Chodi involvement in the Totonero betting scandal of 1980. Soon to follow, Milan played another season in Serie B 1982-1983 after finishing third to last the previous year. The horror movie had a final twist episode; President Giuseppe Farina who had several legal troubles decided to flee to South Africa with a substantial amount of the club’s money.

Silvio Berlusconi bought Milan from a bankruptcy tribunal in 1986 and ever since has served as the president with exception of the years that he served as Prime Minister of Italy. Under his tenure Milan has won 15 Italian pieces of silverware, and 13 international blink blink. That adds up to 28 trophies in 26 years. With that kind of record no wonder why people vote for Silvio every time he is on the ballot. That’s excellent results in and out of the field.

Silvio is not the lone decision maker at Milan, in fact, most decisions are delegated down to Adriano Galliani and Ariedo Braida. These two have cut the most unlikely deals over the years simply by fine dining with their counterparts in Barcelona, Rio, London, and Paris. It takes excellent negotiation skills to bring players like Ronaldinho for 16 M, Robinho for 13 M, and Ibrahimovic for 13 M. They also know a thing or two about buying low and selling high (Goldman Sachs take heed!): Kaka to Real for 60 M, an almost retired Shevchenko to Chelsea for 30 M, an injured Pato duck to Corinthians for 15 M followed by Thiago Silva for 42 M. Unlike some who want to raise taxes on jet owners, I would give Galliani and Braida the retired space shuttle if they asks for it.

In the last decade, Arab sheikhs and Russian billionaires have changed the rules of the game by buying stakes in European clubs, but what hasn’t changed is that if a team doesn’t invest in a well structured youth system, it will not succeed in the long run. Milan is well aware of this and has developed hierarchical age squads from the Pulcini (italian for chicks meaning young) to Primavera (under 19 years old). Many Milan players have climbed the ranks of the youth system such as Maldini, Baresi, Albertini, Costacurta, Oddo and the most recent De Sciglio and Abate.

AC Milan is not only a football team with the primary goal of winning trophies, but also a capitalistic azzienda (italian for company) with the goal of maximizing profitability. Similar to a manufacturing company which has to resolve disputes between union and management, Milan has managed to solve several boycotts and spat rows with powerful fan organizations such as Fossa Dei Leoni and Comando Tigre. AC Milan has adapted in a globalized world. Every year during summer breaks, it participates in North American tours, Asian tours or European warm up cups. As a result, it has created a strong global fan base with excellent presence in the web with millions of followers in YouTube channel, Facebook and Twitter.

These might seem routine management actions in an ever increasing global competitive environment, but you would be surprised how many badly managed football teams (or non-football) exist out there.

For All The Right Reasons

No dynasty lasts forever and it looks like the wind of change is underway in Milanello. When Ancelotti left in 2009, Milan closed a cycle that football clubs inevitable go through. In Milan’s case, this cycle is defined by the retirement of a generation of players and tight finances. These are healthy zig-zags that will ultimately prepare and lead AC Milan to enter the next chapter of its glorious history.

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