The Perfect Defense

In every sport that I have ever watched or played, I have always been drawn to the defense. Goals are beautiful and necessary to win a match, but the perfect tackle, block, or clearance gets my heart racing in the same way as a beautiful goal. In fact, it was four legendary defenders that helped me to fall in love with football, the Italian national team, and Milan in the first place. Four of the best defenders that ever played the game. Most consider them to be the perfect defense.

This 1994 Milan side contains the perfect defense

It was the 1994 World Cup, my very first time ever watching football, and I kept being drawn to this Italian team. There was this guy Roberto Baggio, who kept scoring a goal just in time to drag the team through to the next game and then eventually, the final. But in spite of his heroics, I was mesmerized by four defenders, all wearing azzurri blue: Tassotti, Baresi, Costacurta, and Maldini. They absolutely stood out amongst the defenders from the other countries. They read the game so much better than the other defenders, and they had amazing tackles and clearances, too. Imagine my excitement when I found out that they all played for one club team: AC Milan. It was inevitable that I would become a Milan fan.

The essential right back 

Mauro Tassotti
Tassotti came to Milan in 1980, the first of only two seasons that the club played in Serie B. Despite Milan having their worst few seasons in the early 1980’s, Tassotti was a starter right away and quickly became one of the best players of that team. Playing at right back, he was strong, tactically intelligent, and could mark opposition players well. But he was also fast, athletic, and great at making attacking runs, as well as putting in great crosses. He developed technically on the ball, with an elegance about his play that was similar to his fellow defenders. His tactical proficiency and ability to read the game so well contributed to the coaching career he has maintained since hanging up his boots. As an added bonus, he was also known for just the one haircut throughout his career and well into his coaching career. Seriously, though, a hard-working, humble, and brilliant right back.

The eternal captain

Franco Baresi
After a trial with Inter, Baresi was turned down by the Nerazzurri, while his brother was accepted. The wiser of the two clubs, Milan, snatched up Franco Baresi, and after a spell in the youth sector, he would become a bandiera and eternal captain for the Rossoneri, with 20 years in the senior team. He became one of the greatest of all times, one of the last great sweepers in defense. His strength, pace, stamina, and power made him an intimidating opponent. But he was also masterful at reading the game and distributing the ball, which made him a complete threat. The combination of both power and elegance was amazing to watch, and a common theme in this entire defense. His leadership, calmness, and wisdom were essential on and off the pitch, but his defensive abilities on the pitch made him second to none.

The versatile center back

Alessandro “Billy” Costacurta
Perhaps the most versatile defender of this back four, Costacurta played primarily at center back, but was capable of playing any position in defense. He was tactically very smart and quick, very good at reading the game and responding. His specialty was man-marking, although he was equally good at zonal marking. He was also great in the air and a great penalty taker, which only added to his versatility. Perhaps sometimes hidden in the shadows of two captains, his qualities of pace, elegance, and positioning cannot be overlooked or forgotten. He, too, is largely considered one of the best center backs of all time by both peers and fans alike.

A second generation captain

Paolo Maldini
Not only was Maldini a second-generation Milan player, first capped at age 16, his Milan story continues today as technical director. He lifted the Champions League trophy for the first time as captain exactly 40 years later than his father had lifted the European Cup trophy. In addition to being a fan favorite, he was known for being one of the most elegant defenders ever to play. Starting at right back, switching to left back for much of his career, then becoming an excellent center back in his own right, he was known for his seemingly effortless, breathtaking and perfectly timed tackles, which he actually played to avoid. His ability to read his opponents and position himself well is what made him able to avoid challenges rather than always have to tackle. His ability to get forward and put in amazing crosses made him an attacking threat as well. Like Baresi, he would captain both Milan and the Italy national team.

Individually, they were brilliant, the best of the best. Together, these four defenders were formidable. In the 1993-94 season alone, not only did Milan win the Scudetto, they did it conceding only 15 goals. Milan also won the Champions League that year, infamously beating Barcelona 4-0 in the final. That’s right, a clean sheet. Against Cruyff’s Barcelona. In the Champions League final. And then Milan’s starting back four went to the World Cup, helping Italy to reach the final. That was only one year. Together, their team and individual accolades require a list that seems almost infinite, trophies and titles that most teams could only dream of.

Numbers six and three retired, because it doesn't get any better than this

People will debate about which players were the best of all time at various positions, but for anyone that knows football, there is probably the least debate about which four defenders were the best of all time. They were all four in Milan’s legendary defense. Athletic and elegant, classy and tactically intelligent, they are the opposite of the stereotypical crunching tacklers and bruisers that the word “defender’ usually brings to mind. They were all legends in their own right. In fact, two of those four players are the only two players to have their numbers retired at Milan, both legendary captains as well. Together, the four of them made up the perfect defense.

This post inspired by the music of Muse’s “Invincible”

The Perfect Defense The Perfect Defense Reviewed by Elaine on 7:25 AM Rating: 5
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