Franco Baresi is number 16 in 90min's Top 50 Greatest Footballers of All Time series


Playing in a division and for a country revered for churning out generational defensive talent seemingly year-on-year, Franco Baresi consistently stood out among the rest during his illustrious 20-year career.


The elegance and effortlessness at which he played the centre-back position was unique, and something that has only ever been replicated by Der Kaiser, Franz Beckenbauer - who had defined the libero role a generation prior.


Baresi, the cornerstone of Arrigo Sacchi's unItalian revolution in Milan, epitomised the meaning of impenetrable, as he became the heartbeat to one of football's stoutest ever backlines in one of the most dominant club sides we've ever seen. 

Oh, but how it could've all been so different if only Inter had decided to take a shot on Franco over his older brother, Giuseppe, when the former hadn't yet hit his teen years. Giuseppe Baresi enjoyed a stellar career for the Nerazzurri by the way, but as their careers progressed, the older brother was always known as 'the other Baresi'.


Deputising as a 17-year-old for the Rossoneri, it quickly became clear that Baresi wasn't merely just another talent to come out of one of the centre-back-making factories placed in every Italian city. This kid was a little different.


Piscinin (little one), as he swiftly became known by his Milan teammates, combined tremendous composure in possession, an underrated burst of speed along with an ingenious ability to anticipate every action on the pitch to became an outstanding libero...or sweeper if you're not feeling continental.


Following immediate success after his integration into the first-team, Baresi established himself as a superb leader and a calming influence on the pitch amid a bleak spell for the Rossoneri - which saw them relegated to Serie B in 1980 as a result of a match-fixing scandal, and struggle in the top-flight for much of the 1980s. 


Baresi, a World Cup winner in 1982, remained loyal, however, and in 1987 when Milan appointed the rather unproven Sacchi, the Italian was rewarded for staying true to the club that took a shot on him as a youngster.

His never-ending defensive skill set allowed him to adapt to anything his manager asked of him, and under Sacchi, Baresi thrived in an aggressive system based around maintaining a high defensive line, attempting to catch opposing forwards out with their ridiculously organised 'offside trap'.


The persistent image of Baresi holding his arm up for the linesman became synonymous with Italian football during the Sacchi era at San Siro.


Sacchi's Milan were Galacticos before the term was invented, with Dutch trio Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten spearheading the revolution. It was the back four of Mauro Tassotti, Baresi, Alessandro Costacurta and Paolo Maldini, however, who laid the foundations for Rossoneri supremacy. 


Baresi and co. guided Milan to Scudetto success in Sacchi's maiden campaign after opponents breached Giovanni Galli's goal just 14 times all season. Victory in the Supercoppa Italiana followed in 1988 before it was time to assert European domination.


With captain Baresi timing tackles and carrying the ball out of defence like the graceful sucker he was, Milan swept aside a formidable Steaua Bucharest outfit 4-0 in the 1989 European Cup final. A year later, on the same stage, the diminutive Italian - patrolling the Milan backline with his iconic untucked shirt swagger - put in a career-defining display as his club won back-to-back European crowns following a 1-0 win over Benfica.

It was one of the finest displays ever by a defender in history.


Despite Sacchi's departure in 1991, the Rossoneri continued to dominate, with former player Fabio Capello at the helm - with his decision to stick with the methods put in place by Sacchi setting him up for success at San Siro. 


A wealth of world class talent was added to what was already a special side led, of course, by Baresi. 


Under Capello, Baresi would go on to win four more Serie A crowns and reach three consecutive European Cup finals between 1993 and 1995, with Milan's iconic 4-0 thrashing of Johan Cruyff's imperious Barcelona side coming in between two 1-0 defeats at the hands of Marseille and Ajax. 


Nevertheless, in four Champions League finals with Baresi at the heart of the Milan backline (he missed the Barca final due to suspension), the Rossoneri had conceded just two goals. Insane.

Roberto Baggio of Juventus and Franco Baresi of AC Milan

For some of the finest attacking talent Europe had to offer, trying to break down that Baresi-inspired backline was like fanatic gamers attempting to overcome the 'Lost Levels' on the original 'Super Mario Bros'. It was only the fortunate who could.


On the international stage, Baresi remarkably had to wait until Italia '90 to make his World Cup debut. 


At the peak of his powers, Baresi proved instrumental to the host nation that summer as he guided the Azzurri to five consecutive clean sheets before their 1-0 semi-final defeat to Diego Maradona's Argentina.


Italy went one better in 1994, however, reaching the final despite their talismanic leader missing much of the tournament with a meniscus injury. In just 25 days, however, Baresi made a miraculous recovery in time for the final against Brazil and on football's grandest stage, piscinin was at his all-conquering best - sniffing out the impish threat of Romario that day.


The final would eventually end in tears for Baresi, but his display in the insufferable North American heat had elevated him into the realms of greatness. 

Following his retirement in 1997, Baresi swiftly had his iconic number six shirt retired by the Rossoneri and in 1999, he was voted the club's 'Player of the Century'. 


Nicknamed 'Kaiser Franz' later on his career in homage to Beckenbauer, Baresi truly was a 'regen' of the German legend. His knack of stifling some of the world's elite attacking talent and the overall ease at which he made the art of defending look remains the benchmark over two decades since his retirement. 


The game's last great libero: Franco Baresi.


90min's 'Top 50 Greatest Footballers of All Time' can be found here.


Number 50: Luka Modric

Number 49: John Charles

Number 48: Hugo Sanchez

Number 47: Jairzinho

Number 46: Omar Sivori

Number 45: Paolo Rossi

Number 44: Paul Breitner

Number 43: George Weah

Number 42: Kaka

Number 41: Lev Yashin

Number 40: Gunnar Nordahl

Number 39: Kevin Keegan

Number 38: Hristo Stoichkov

Number 37: Gianluigi Buffon

Number 36: Johan Neeskens

Number 35: Xavi Hernandez

Number 34: Luis Suarez

Number 33: Karl-Heinz Rummenigge

Number 32: Andres Iniesta

Number 31: Rivelino

Number 30: Bobby Moore

Number 29: Socrates

Number 28: Sandor Kocsis

Number 27: Lothar Matthaus

Number 26: Ronaldinho

Number 25: Ruud Gullit

Number 24: Bobby Charlton

Number 23: Giuseppe Meazza

Number 22: Raymond Kopa

Number 21: Romario

Number 20: Eusebio

Number 19: Marco van Basten

Number 18: George Best

Number 17: ​Zico