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Franco Baresi on Van Dijk, Ronaldo and AC Milan's future

Words by Rob Chilton

The legendary Italian defender spoke to EDGAR in Dubai about the art of defending, what’s wrong with the Italian national team and the strikers playing today that he’d be afraid to face

Any striker who came up against the AC Milan defence of the late 1980s and 1990s usually left the pitch crestfallen. Led by their elegant captain Franco Baresi, the Rossoneri defence kept the back door firmly shut as they cruised to three Champions Leagues and six Serie A titles.

Baresi played his entire career at Milan, captaining the side for 15 seasons, playing 719 matches and winning 18 trophies in total. He was so good, the club retired his number six shirt in his honour.

The Italian legend, who played 81 times for his country, visited Dubai for the AC Milan Academy Dubai Champions Cup, in which more than 600 youngsters who attend the club’s soccer school took part.

Wearing his official Diesel club blazer and Oakley sunglasses, the charming Baresi sat on the sunny terrace of Roberto’s restaurant in DIFC to talk about football today.

Baresi spoke in Dubai to promote the AC Milan academy

On how to win

I’m always told that football is a beautiful sport. Maybe today it’s physically more challenging and players today must be brave. Although I was a defender I believe that, to be successful today, teams must attack.

On AC Milan’s decline

Milan made the mistake of not investing in the team and Juventus took advantage of that situation – of course, they are a great team. Serie A needs both Milan clubs to raise the bar and make it interesting.

Gennaro Gattuso needs time, says Baresi

On AC Milan today

The team is growing a lot. In January a lot of talented new players arrived so we have more trust in the team now. We must manage to keep a high level of excellence. Every coach has their own style and methods and Gennaro Gattuso is doing a pretty good job. It’s an honour and a burden to coach such an amazing team like Milan. He just needs time.

On strikers playing today

I admire Messi, Suarez and Ronaldo a lot. Also, the Liverpool front three are strong and fast – they think fast too. I’d be afraid to face them on the pitch. But maybe they’d be afraid to face me too! [laughs]

On current defenders

There are great defenders playing today. They probably have better organisation than we did but they still must pay attention for 90 minutes, and always be on guard. And, of course, they must have very talented colleagues around them. I think Virgil van Dijk at Liverpool is very talented with great skills and a big personality.

Virgil van Dijk is Baresi's kind of defender

On flowing football

I love watching open matches where anything can happen; when teams are trying to score more than the other team. That’s why I like the culture of Barcelona and Real Madrid. PSG v Manchester United this week was a fast match, really entertaining. When I watch a match now, I examine the skills of all players, both defenders and attackers.

On the future of the Champions League

I think there will be more balance in the next few years. There’s lots of competition but obviously Real Madrid lost something when Ronaldo left. Perhaps Real Madrid are no longer hungry because they have won so many trophies recently.

Ministry of Defence: Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini

On the Italian national team

Hopefully, Italian clubs will improve and that will help the national team. It was a great disappointment not qualifying for the World Cup last year, but the team is getting better. Young players are coming through and Roberto Mancini is doing whatever he can to make this possible. We weren’t ready for the generational change and couldn’t replace players who retired. Plus, there are not many Italian players in our club teams, we have lots of foreigners, so it’s difficult to find Italian players for the national team.

Roberto Mancini is doing good work, says Baresi

On the AC Milan Academy Dubai

The academy is a great opportunity for children to learn the values and philosophy of AC Milan so they can grow physically, but also grow from a human point of view. They learn about sacrifice, and that life is made of challenges. It’s a school of life and is good for their future. Together we grow and together we win.

On AC Milan values

AC Milan is famous around the world because of our history, our success, and our mentality. What does that mean? When these children play they must be ready to transmit these values and emotions to people who come to the stadium to watch matches and have fun.

Baresi with academy youngsters in Dubai

On looking back

Seeing these children makes me go back in time, I think about myself at their age. I had passion and I was lucky to be born with talent. There’s a phrase in Italian that means, ‘I had the head’ and that was me – I was a very responsible kid.

On giving advice

I tell the children to never lose passion or enthusiasm. Maybe these kids today don’t know me so they have to watch old matches on TV to see me! I tell them that my dream to play football came true. I never expected it to happen, but it did.

The AC Milan Academy Dubai Champions Cup is on February 15 and 16 at GEMS International School Al Khail

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