5 English players who played for AC Milan
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It is perhaps fitting that AC Milan, an as-yet sleeping titan of European football, was founded by English expatriates. Alfred Edwards and Herbert Kilpin, the latter of whom was the first club captain, each shared a common vision. That vision was to create a club like no other, and dominate Italian football for generations and if you take a look at the Serie A outright markets, you will see AC Milan are currently third favourite to win the league this time round.
Soon after formation, the breakaway Inter Milan (or 'Internazionale') was founded out of a desire to draw non-Italian players to the city, while AC Milan remained exclusively Italian. As such, it stands to reason that the growth of AC Milan’s foreign connections over the past century has been decidedly stunted in comparison to Internazionale. Nonetheless, the AC Milan of today can now look back with pride on a list of distinguished foreign alumni, such as Andriy Shevchenko and Marco van Basten. However, only five Englishmen have ever appeared for AC Milan in its 118-year history.
So just how have the ‘Rossoneri’ fared when signing English talents? The first of them needs no introduction in the civilised world...
Jimmy Greaves (1961)
For the benefit of younger readers, especially those not privileged enough to have a football-mad grandparent, Jimmy Greaves was a prototype of Wayne Rooney. At the age of sixteen he was terrorising defences and would become famous for consistently scoring on his debuts, first doing so for Chelsea in 1957. After four years and 124 goals later, he made a high-profile move to AC Milan. Although Greaves appeared just twelve times for the Italian giants, he scored on nine occasions.
In a purely mathematical context, Greaves’ time at AC Milan could be considered a roaring success. Yet, a dozen appearances is never enough to make anyone a club legend, and after being unable to cope with the regime of Nereo Rocco, he returned to England. Now sporting the famous white and navy of Tottenham, Greaves was once again in his element, and would in time become part of the White Hart Lane hall of fame.
Luther Blissett (1983-1984)
According to legend, the staff at AC Milan wanted John Barnes, a Jamaican-born England forward with no apparent equal at that time. However, it was Luther Blissett who instead made the move from Watford to AC Milan in 1983. At that time, the Hornets were fresh off a second placed finish, but the lure of the continent was sufficiently large for Blissett.
Unlike Greaves, Blissett was a certifiable disaster for AC Milan. For Blissett and his manager, scoring an average of once every six games was simply not enough to merit the famous red and black stripes. He was duly shipped back to Watford at a net loss of £500,000.
Ray Wilkins (1984-1987)
With the club buying big in an attempt to honour the club’s founders and its loyal fans, there was nothing accidental about Ray Wilkins’ transfer to AC Milan in 1984. A no-nonsense midfielder, Wilkins brought the sort of steely resolve that only 339 appearances in English football can forge. Sadly, he was just one cog in a failed short-term experiment for AC Milan.
Wilkins made 72 appearances in three years at the club, but he will be somewhat riled at the fact that he missed the golden age which was just around the corner at the San Siro. Instead of staying put, he moved to Paris Saint Germain, but was very soon back in his home country to play out the remainder of his days.
Mark Hateley (1984-1987)
Although he scored a Milan derby winner in October 1984, and ended a six-year winless streak for AC Milan in that fixture, Hateley ultimately failed to maintain the deadly scoring ability he had shown in England. While an average of around one goal in four games was an improvement on the return plundered by Blissett, it was not enough to give AC Milan any successes of note.
Injuries were also a major issue for Hateley during his time at AC Milan. After leaving for Monaco in 1987, and experiencing another three years of inconsistency, the man from Derby finally found home at Ibrox at the turn of the decade.
David Beckham (Loan – 2009 & 2010)
With Beckham by this time in the twilight of his playing career, and appearing as a loan player, it is difficult to gauge whether or not his time at the San Siro was any sort of success. Though several yards slower than he was in his heyday, Beckham showed on a number of occasions that his vision was still as masterful as ever.
Rarely failing to add an extra dimension to AC Milan’s overall attacking prowess, Beckham even scored twice in his first loan spell at the club, proving that class is permanent. With the lure of the Premier League interminably growing since its formation, it stands to reason that the presence of English players in Italy has become an increasing rarity.
Given AC Milan’s chequered history of handling English talent, it could – in true Captain Oates fashion – be quite some time before an Englishman once again pulls on the famous red and black jersey.
Tamhas Woods is a professional sports journalist with a Masters in Journalism from Staffordshire University.
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