Nereo Rocco: The Master

After celebrating the birthdays of not just one but three Milan managers past and present yesterday, I wanted to take a look back deeper into the history of the club and spotlight a Milan coaching legend. He was well before my time, before the glittery Berlusconi era, and still holds the record for the longest-serving manager in Milan history. He won 10 Italian and European trophies during his three different spells with the club and there is even a stadium named after him. So it is no surprise that in his Trieste native dialect, he is called “El Paròn”, or The Master.

Truly The Master

Born in 1912, Nereo Rocco's playing career spanned from 1929 until 1942, and was not anything spectacular. He played for three clubs: seven years with his hometown club Triestina, three years with Napoli, and two years with Padova. During that time he made 287 appearances in Serie A and scored 69 goals, playing primarily as a winger. His personal career highlight was his singular cap for the Italian national team in 1934. Of his national team spot, he reportedly said “I got married too soon, and when I recovered from that ‘doll’, it was too late: my place was occupied by Ferrari and Meazza.”

But it was in 1947, after his playing career, that Rocco’s true legend began. It is a tribute to his greatness that he immediately improved each team he managed to better results, if not their best. In his first year of coaching, he led Triestina to an amazing second place finish in Serie A, which is still the best result of the club even today. After three years with the team, he left the club due to some disagreements with their management and spent about three years coaching Trevisio before retuning to Triestina in 1953. That was where he first managed some player called Cesare Maldini, also a native of Trieste. However this time he was sacked after only 21 matches with his local club.

Larger than life, a legend who truly lives on in our hearts

He then went to coach Padova, who were playing in Serie B. Not only was he able to keep them from relegation, but he also saw them promoted to Serie A. In fact, in the 1957-58 season, he led them to a third place finish in Serie A, their best finish to date. Despite being a very small team, the years under Rocco’s guidance are still considered the most successful years of the club.

However it was after 1961 that Rocco began to write his legend in silver – a whopping ten trophies for AC Milan. He started with the Rossoneri for the 1961-1962 season, winning the Scudetto his first year coaching at the club. His first European Cup was won in the the following year, in the 1962-63 season. After only two seasons of brilliance with Milan, he left to manage Torino, where once again, he achieved the best results the club had seen since the legendary Grande Torino.

So much win

His return to Milan in 1967 saw more trophies. He again led the team to the Scudetto his first season back and added a UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, too. The following season, Milan won the European Cup and an Intercontinental Cup. He then won back to back Italian Cups in the 1971-72 and 1972-73 seasons as well as another UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup. He then moved on to manage Fiorentina, where after a year with the club, he decided to retire from coaching.

However, Milan were able to talk him out of retirement in 1977 by appointing him as Technical Director and Assistant Coach to Nils Liedholm. During this year, Milan once again won the Italian Cup, bringing Rocco’s trophy haul to a whopping 10 trophies in 459 matches in charge for Milan.

He was both coach and mentor to one Cesare Maldini

Sadly, Rocco died in 1979 in his hometown of Trieste. But not before creating an amazing legend for himself. He is often quoted as saying “Strike anything that moves close to the grass, if it’s the ball, then it is even better.” But those who knew him say that he would have never even joked about hurting someone and that this quote is not true.

Speaking of those who knew him, Trappatoni, musing about his mentors, spoke of Nereo Rocco, saying he was “A man different from how it is told. Shy, respectful. He seemed gruff, but he was not. Every now and then he threw in a dialect joke, but he was an educated man, who never said anything trivial. He spoke freely with us, but never had the courage to warn us: you're sitting today.”

Nereo Rocco, Gianni Rivera, and Giovanni Trappatoni

He coached average players like himself, and he also coached legends like Gianni Rivera, but his legend isn’t by association with their greatness. His legend is making each team better than before, if not their best. Certainly, over his three spells at Milan, he created a winning cycle that will never be forgotten. And as if to cement his place in history as one of the best Italian coaches of all time, his native Trieste named their stadium in his honor, which was inaugurated in 1992. But his place in Milan history is cemented in the trophy room, where ten of the club’s trophies were won by The Master.

This post inspired by the music of The Smiths

Our next match is
Genoa vs. Milan
Monday, April 7 • 20:45 CEST (2:45 EDT)

Nereo Rocco: The Master Nereo Rocco: The Master Reviewed by Elaine on 5:10 AM Rating: 5
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