Everyone talks about the Supercoppa as “the 29th trophy of the Berlusconi Era.” And even if this trophy was more accidental than planned, specifically because this team arose from the ashes of Berlusconi’s unchecked spending which won him the first 28, it almost makes it that much more special. If the deal with Sino Europe Sports ever goes through, they will be taking over the club in only somewhat better circumstances than Berlusconi found it. That in a football world which has changed markedly since Berlusconi started. This trophy specifically is very special because it was won in spite of Berlusconi’s hip hip hoora speeches, reckless spending, tactical ideas, and myriad coaching changes. Berlusconi’s “young, all-Italian” idea was born from him closing his pocketbook, stopping the reckless sale of amazing youth talents like Aubamayeng, and realizing what he had all along in his youth sector. Accidentally. But with that said, let’s take a look at the other 28 trophies, an amazing feat no matter what you think of Berlusconi.
1) Scudetto 1987-88 After finishing 5th in Berlusconi’s first full season of ownership the previous year, Milan and Sacchi took the Scudetto from Maradona’s Napoli on the last day of competition. In addition to the previously existing and stalwart defense of Baresi, Maldini, Costacurta, and Tassotti, players like Ancelotti, Massaro, and Donadoni filled out a roster that was entirely Italian except for Berlusconi’s pricey Dutch purchases of Gullit and van Basten. This was also the last season that Serie A was comprised of only 16 teams. It had been nine years and two stints in Serie B since Milan had last won the Scudetto.
2) Supercoppa 1988 This trophy was the first of five times in the Berlusconi Era that Milan won the Supercoppa following a Scudetto win. That’s five out of eight of the Scudetti in the Berlusconi era followed by a Supercoppa win. Again, the squad which beat Sampdoria 3-1 for the win consisted of nine Italians and two Dutchmen. And while the two Dutchmen gave the team the edge, the rest of the team was largely the team which Berlusconi inherited.
3) European Cup 1988-89 With a twenty year drought, Milan finally lifted the cup again for the third time in their history with Sacchi at the helm. Milan beat Real Madrid 5-0 at home on the second leg of the semifinal, and some guy called van Basten was the tournament’s top scorer with 10 goals. Their squad was much the same as the prior year’s, except with the addition of Berlusconi’s third Dutch jewel in Frank Rijkaard. This comprised the epic and legendary Sacchi’s Milan which is still considered to be one of the best squad’s in history, yet did not win the Scudetto this same year. Rather, they finished third, a whopping 12 points behind Inter and a point behind Napoli.
|Berlusconi shown after winning his first of eight Scudetti as owner|
4) UEFA Super Cup 1989 Sacchi’s Milan beat Barcelona, the winners of the European Cup Winners’ Cup (the modern Europa League equivalent) This was yet another trophy awarded to the Italian-based squad with the magical but expensive Dutch trio. That trio was Berlusconi’s major contribution to the squad which had played in Serie B just a few years prior. And as with many of his contributions, coincided with his political aspirations.
5) Intercontinental Cup 1989 However, by virtue of winning the European Cup, they faced the winners of the Copa Libertadores, Atletico Nacional of Colombia. With only Rijkaard and Gullit along with nine Italians, it was Evani who scored the singular and winning goal, 1-0. The match was played in December in Tokyo, which, along with their Super Cup match and ongoing European Cup commitments, may have impacted their unsuccessful run for the Scudetto that year.
6) European Cup 1989-90 This was the only time the cup was ever successfully defended, as Milan won back to back European Cup titles. This despite letting Napoli take the Scudetto by a single point that year. Van Basten was the Capocanonniere with 19 goals in Serie A, and he also had six goals in the European Cup. Sacchi’s squad was still primarily Italian, with players like the late Stefano Borgonovo as well as a singular and random Portuguese player in Julio Grilo joining the Dutch trio. But the infamous defense remained unchanging, as did the rest of the squad, most of whom were already in place when Berlusconi bought the club.
|The trophy addiction continues...|
7) UEFA Super Cup 1990 This trophy was won in two legs, played midseason, which could have contributed to the lack of a Scudetto that season as well. The team was comprised of a starting eleven which included nine Italians and two of the three Dutchmen. Again, I cannot reiterate enough that this team was built from the base that existed before Berlusconi bought the club. It was his money that brought the gamechangers, all non-Italian, to the club.
8) Intercontinental Cup 1990 This trophy was perhaps a small consolation to failing to win the Scudetto the prior season. They played Olimpia of Paraguay for this trophy. Despite also playing in midseason and all the way in Tokyo, they beat Olimpia 3-0. The purchased, non-Italian Rijkaard scored a brace and was thus named man of the match. The starting eleven consisted of eight Italians and the three Durchmen.
9) Scudetto 1991-92 After a trophyless season the prior year, Sacchi left and was replaced by Capello. Additionally, after some shuffling of the goalkeepers through prior seasons, Sebastiano Rossi joined the club. This was to be Berlusconi’s second Scudetto in seven and a half years of owning the club, but Milan’s twelfth league title overall. Van Basten was the Capocanonniere in Serie A with 25 goals, with he and his two fellow Dutchmen once again being the polish on another trophy won by an otherwise all-Italian squad. This was also the same squad who became known as gli Invincibili, or the Invincibles, and they went undefeated the whole season.
|Capello and van Basten celebrate|
10) Supercoppa 1992 Capello’s “invincible” side met Parma preseason and won the trophy with a 2-1 scoreline. Gullit and van Basten represented the non-Italians in a squad that was still otherwise all-Italian, with many key players still from the original squad Berlusconi started out with.
11) Scudetto 1992-93 Milan repeated their Scudetto win by finishing four points ahead of Inter. This season saw the acquisition of Croatian Boban and the French Papin to add to the Dutch trio and keep the trophies coming. It highlighted the need for continuous cash to be invested and the need for non-Italian reinforcements to stay competitive. So long as Berlusconi continued with both of these things, his teams would continue to be successful.
12) Supercoppa 1993 Once again this match took place in August, but this time in the USA. Milan beat Coppa Italia winners Torino 1-0 to lift the silverware. The trophy was won by a starting lineup of a Croatian and a then-Yugoslavian, Savicevic, alongside an army of Italian players. Romanian Raducioiu contributed from the bench as well.
|To the victor goes the spoils... Champions League|
13) Scudetto 1993-94 This third straight Scudetto was won not by offense, but rather by defense. With the Dutch trio broken up and only the oft injured van Basten left, there were still the aforementioned foreigners Papin, Boban, Savicevic, and Raducioiu as well. As further diversification of the squad continued, we saw the French Desailly as well as the Danish Laudrup join the slowly transforming squad of much fewer Italians. This league title was Berlusconi’s fourth and Milan’s 14th Scudetto.
14) Champions League 1993-94 Milan’s fifth and Berlusconi’s third top European trophy (now called Champions League instead of European Cup) was played with that increasingly diverse squad of players that only money could buy. Because of the continuous investments made in the squad, Capello’s “invincibles” won nearly everything this year. They won the Champions League trophy in spectacular fashion by defeating Cruyff’s Barcelona squad 4-0, a squad with players like Pep Guardiola, Romario, Juan Carlos, and Eusebio. Two goals from Massaro, and a goal each from Savicevic, and Desailly sealed the deal in this legendary final.
15) Supercoppa 1994 Because Capello’s Milan could not get enough trophies this year, the Supercoppa was played in August against a nearly equally Italian Sampdoria side coached by Sven-Goran Eriksson. After a 1-1 draw,this one went to penalties to decide, and both Mihajlovic and the former Milan player Evani missed their penalties. Although to be fair, Mihajlovic had scored for Sampdoria in regulation, requiring a late equalizer from the returning Milan player, Gullit. Milan’s starting lineup consisted of Boban and Gullit and nine Italians.
16) European Super Cup 1994 This trophy was won at the expense of Arsenal, who could not score over two legs, while Milan scored two at home to seal the deal. It was played midseason, in February. Milan started with Desailly and Savicevic and nine Italians in the first leg, then added Boban to reduce the number of Italians to eight in the second leg. They did not win the 1994-95 Scudetto, however, finishing fourth, 13 points behind winners Juventus.
|Capello got quite good at celebrating|
17) Scudetto 1995-96 Capello’s team got back to winning ways with a squad that was still diversifying. Foreign players now included Desailly, Weah, Savicevic, Boban, Futre, and Vieira. The core defense of Baresi, Maldini, Costacurta, and Tassotti were still in place, while other Italian players now included the likes of Ambrosini, Baggio, and Di Canio to name a few. This trophy was Berlusconi’s fifth league title and Milan’s fifteenth overall. Milan finished eight points ahead of runners up Juventus.
18) Scudetto 1998-99 With Zaccheroni as coach, Milan won this Scudetto on the last day, with Lazio only one point behind them in second place. This squad was very diverse. Dutch players Edgar Davids and Winston Bogarde played half a season, as did the Swedish Andersson. Other foreign players still with the club to lift the Scudetto included the Dutch Kluivert, French players Desailly and Ba, the Liberian Weah, the then-Yugoslavian Savicevic, as well as Croatians Smoje and Boban. Brazilians Leonardo and Andre Cruz, Germans Lehman and Ziege, and the Norwegian Nilsen rounded out the non-Italians. This squad was approximately 65% Italian. It is of note that Baresi and Tassotti had retired in 1997, the first major changes to the original defense of the Berlusconi era. Perhaps not coincidentally, it would be four years before a trophy was won by Milan again.
19) Champions League 2002-03 Carlo Ancelotti’s squad finished third in the league, but won the Champions League by defeating Juventus on penalties in the first European final with both teams being Italian. Serginho, Nesta, and Shevchenko all made their penalties while only Del Piero and Brindelli made theirs for Juventus. By this point Milan’s squad was less than 50% Italian. Imports included the Ukrainian Shevchenko, Danish Helveg, Tomasson, and Laurson, Georgian Kaladze, Argentinian Redondo & Chamot, Portuguese Rui Costa, Brazilians Rivaldo, Dida, Roque Junior, Serginho, and Leonardo, the French Ibrahim Ba, Dutch Seedorf, and Croatian Simic. While Italians Pirlo, Gattuso, Nesta, Brocchi, and Inzaghi had joined the squad since the last trophy, only Maldini and Costacurta remained from the original nearly all-Italian squad Berlusconi bought. There had been plenty of “renewal.”
20) Coppa Italia 2002-03 To go along with their Champions League trophy, Milan beat Capello’s Roma to win the Coppa Italia trophy as well. This is particularly notable as the Coppa Italia final was played over two legs: May 20th and May 31st, and the Champions League final was played in between, on May 28th. Additionally, their final two games of the Serie A season were played May 17th and May 24th. So that’s five very competitive games and two trophies won in 14 days. The Coppa trophy was won by a score of 6-3 on aggregate, with Totti scoring all three Roma goals, while Serginho, Ambrosini, Shevchenko, Rivaldo, and Inzaghi all sharing the wealth for Milan.
21) UEFA Super Cup 2003 This cup was contested at the end of August, just before the start of Serie A. Milan defeated Jose Mourinho’s Porto 1-0 to take home the trophy. The upcoming season saw a lot fewer players in the squad. The total number had been as high as 35 players in recent seasons, this year the squad was pared down to 25, of which up to 15 players were not Italian. It was one of those non-Italians, Shevchenko, who won this match with a goal just ten minutes in.
22) Scudetto 2003-04 With Carlo Ancelotti, Milan found some renewed success. Despite missing out on winning the Supercoppa and Intercontinental Cups the previous year, Milan finished first in Serie A this season, 11 points ahead of Capello’s Roma. Shevchenko was Capocanonniere with 24 goals in the league. Again, the squad was only roughly forty percent Italian at this point.
23) Supercoppa 2004 Milan faced Coppa Italia winners Lazio for the Supercoppa in August, ahead of the 2004-05 Serie A season. Shevchenko scored a hat trick for a 3-0 win to take home the trophy. This squad, which would remain trophyless for almost three years, was approximately 48% Italian, though many names and faces would remain to see future gold medals and silver trophies won.
|Redemption in Athens|
24) Champions League 2006-07 If you know your Milan and Champions League history, you’ll know that defeating Liverpool to win the Champions League title was more than just a trophy. This final repeated the finalists from Istanbul in 2005, where Milan gave up a three point advantage at halftime only to lose on penalties. But in 2007 in Athens, Milan were victorious. Inzaghi scored a brace, which was enough to overcome Dirk Kuyt’s late goal, and Milan lifted their seventh Champions League trophy. Kaka also won the Golden Boot with ten goals in the tournament. In the league, it is of note that Milan finished fourth, 36 points behind Inter, who were unpunished for their part in the Calciopoli scandal, while Milan were docked eight points this season. Milan did succeed in winning a trophy despite having sold Shevchenko at the end of the previous season for €44m. The bloated squad was now about 65% Italian, and the foreigners included six Brazilians.
25) UEFA Super Cup 2007 Milan and Berlusconi’s fifth overall UEFA Super Cup was won in late August of 2007. With goals by Inzaghi, Jankulovski, and Kaka, Milan defeated Sevilla 3-0 in Monaco. The starting lineup included six Italians and five non-Italians. Despite not being a scorer, Pirlo was named the man of the match.
26) FIFA Club World Cup 2007 In the fourth edition of this event, Milan won their 18th international trophy, officially becoming the most successful team in the world. Milan played in the semis on December 13th and the final on the 16th in Japan, defeating Boca Juniors 4-2, despite an own goal by Ambrosini. The squad for this season was less than 50% Italian, although the starting lineup for the final included seven Italians and only four foreign players.
|Most successful club in the world title|
27) Scudetto 2010-11 Milan ended their trophy drought and finally took down the scandal-advantaged Inter by a full six points with two games left to play in the season. After having sold Kaka in 2009 to balance the books, Berlusconi (who was of course, not coincidentally, running for office again) invested and bought both Ibrahimovic and Robinho to strengthen the squad. Additionally, Milan had Pato, and those three players each scored 14 goals in the league for a whopping 42 goals in the league. The squad was only 50% Italian, and Maldini, the final Italian player remaining from the original Berlusconi squad, had left in 2009. Despite their league success under Allegri, they were only able to make it to the Round of 16 in the Champions League this year.
28) Supercoppa 2011 Despite being knocked out of the Coppa Italia by Palermo in the semi-finals, by virtue of winning the league, Milan also won the Supercoppa the same year they won the Scudetto for the fifth time under Berlusconi. This was the club’s sixth overall Supercoppa. Allegri’s winning squad consisted of six foreign starters and five Italians. The trophy was won in Beijing preseason, played against rivals Inter. Both Ibrahimovic and Boateng scored to come back from Sneijder’s early goal for Inter and lift the trophy.
29) Supercoppa 2016 With multiple coaches between Allegri and Montella, as well as literally dozens of players both Italian and not, Milan finally lifted another Supercoppa last week. This ended a trophy drought of five years. While many changes had been made in the club, after selling both Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva in 2012, there was little to no re-investment in the club until the summer of 2015, when €90m was spent to bring in Bacca, Romagnoli, and Bertolacci. The money was spent after a gentleman’s agreement was made to sell the club to Bee Taechaubol and an unknown consortium, with the deal eventually falling through. Between the investment and the necessary dependency on young Italian players from the youth teams, Montella was able to finally bring a winning mentality back to the squad and take the trophy from Juventus on penalties 4-3 after a 1-1 draw in regulation and added extra time. Milan’s current squad is only 49% Italian, although the squad who lifted the Supercoppa consisted of eight Italian starters and only three non-Italians.
If you line up the wins with Berlusconi’s spending and his election cycle, you will see a pattern. A pattern of trophies. A very impressive pattern of trophies, actually. While one cannot simply throw money at a club and win, Berlusconi typically spent for big name strikers or midfielders who could score, often not Italian. And so long as he had that Italian defense he inherited, it worked. But when he didn’t spend, had to sell players to meet inflated wage bills, or after the legendary defense moved on, it didn’t go so well. He bought the club and saved it from bankruptcy, providing the necessary funds to take a young and very good squad and make them great. But what he fails to give credit to is the players he inherited. That legendary back line of Baresi, Maldini, Costacurta, and Tassotti are the best defensive back line in history, but were already there when he came along.
Likewise, against his will last year, he spent “too much money” for one of the new young Italian legendary defenders in Romagnoli. A player who has already proven himself worth every penny and then some. Which means, of course that Berlusconi now takes credit for him, even though buying Romagnoli was not at all his idea. But along with an even younger goalkeeper who came through Milan’s youth system (against whom Berlusconi also fought against starting), the trophy cycle could possibly repeat itself, beginning with Friday’s Supercoppa win. However it will take investment in the squad. And probably not a squad of all young Italians, as he has lazily opted to hang up his football owning days taking credit for.
However, what’s so exciting about the 29th trophy in 30 years for Berlusconi is that it was won with belief as much as anything else. While he claims to have had the idea for an all-Italian squad, the squad when he bought the club was actually almost entirely Italian and young, save for two Englishmen. He replaced those two via large sums of cash with more talented players, who just happened to be Dutch. So was it the camaraderie of countrymen or the camaraderie of having been through tough times that made the team great? Or was it the investment in quality players who could make a difference?
The same questions could be asked now. Our squad happens to be relying heavily on the many young Italians. And, like his original squad, contains a 17 year-old world class player. But that is primarily due to tough times. Times made tough by Berlusconi himself, who hasn’t renewed or invested much in the club for five years and hasn’t reaped the return of cash that comes with many of the trophies. The bigger influence in most of those trophies seems to be the core defense, which happened to be Italian, a defense that we are finally starting to see again. So will these young Italians be able to be that same core, that base of a winning team? Only time and hundreds of millions of euros and an uncertain ownership will tell. But the fact that this squad is so united and has so much belief in themselves is certainly encouraging for fans. Perhaps it is time to open a new era of silver and gold.
This post inspired by the music of Shirley Bassey’s “Goldfinger”