Now, If there was an award for subjective article titles the above would surely be a contender. You may, quite rightly ask, ‘Well, what makes a player ‘cult’ exactly?’ Is it ability, personality, off field endeavours or something else entirely? To which we’d helpfully reply; “Who knows, but for the sake of arguments, we’re going to go with ‘our opinion”. Sorry.
Then, after feeling completely unfulfilled by our previous answer you may then ask; “When exactly was Serie A’s ‘Golden Era’ then?” Was it the late 80’s when Van Basten and Gullit’s AC Milan were dominating Europe with their Dutch inspired brand of total footbol? Or was it the mid-90’s catenaccio instilled by some of the great Italian coaches? Or perhaps it was the mid-noughties, bookended by two Champions League winning sides in Ancelotti’s AC and Mourinho’s infamous Internazionale? Both inspired by Ballon D'or bothering players from all around the globe.
Well, the answer is again, hugely subjective, and so for the sake of finding time to actually write this article (and to avoid having to do any real research) we’re going to say; ‘The 90’s of course’. Why? Well, Football Italia, Lotto, the Nerazzurri, and a host of brilliantly memorable players and characters who passed through the league at that time, many of whom donned the blue or red and black stripes of one of the two Milanese giants, or in many cases - both. Capisce?
So, with a Champions League Semi Final between them coming up and with it the chance to get thoroughly beaten by Peps bunch of Mancunian robots in Istanbul, what better time to take a trip down memory lane and name our top ten cult Milanese players from Serie A’s (as defined by Cult Kits) ‘Golden Era’.
But before we start - an important note. This is not a list of the best players to play for either Milan, but our favourite ones to do so. Hence the absence of some seriously big names in favour of a few you may have forgotten all about, or heaven forbid, not have heard of at all.
After all, when you take a trip down memory lane, who knows what, or who, you might stumble across. And so without further ado, and in no particular order, here we bloody go…
Sure, we said this isn’t a list of the best players to play for a Milan club. But so many great players happened to do so that you will inevitably find a handful of them here. And George Weah was undoubtedly one. But something separates him from the illustrious list of star strikers to grace the San Siro.
Was it the fact he was the first, and to this day last, household name from Liberia to play the game? Was it the fact he didn’t just play it but absolutely bossed it, claiming two Serie A titles and a Ballon D’or on the way? Was it that stunning, slaloming solo goal he scored against Verona, a goal so good it still stands the test of time today? Or was it just them red Diadora boots he wore?
The answer is yes to all of the above (especially the Diadora boots). George was so good, and so iconic we can even forgive him for his short stint at a pre-Abu Dahbi era Man City. And that’s impressive.
The snarling, bustling, Chilean marksman made his name at Real Madrid before enhancing it at Inter in the late 90’s. Here he became famous for a number of things; being one half of Chile’s lethal alice band sporting strike partnership with Marcelo Salas, donning the brilliantly petty ‘1+8’ shirt after being made to relinquish his traditional No 9 for the arrival of Ronaldo, and - for me anyway, bouncing repeatedly off of the oversized chest of Jaap Stam in one of the most comically memorable moments from United’s treble winning season.
Now I can't say I remember much of Ba on the pitch for Milan, partly because his time there was interrupted by loans and injury. But I do remember enough to know he was a classy winger with blistering pace who featured heavily for them between ‘97 and ‘99, nabbing a cheeky Scudetto in the process. I also remember his peroxide blonde hair which made him stand out before such haircuts were ten a penny in football. And I also recall having about 16 swaps of him in my Champions League sticker book in 1999.
Throw in his late career appearance at Big Sam’s Bolton Wanderers (alongside fellow ex-San Siro regular Youri Djorkyaeff) and that’s surely enough to justify his place on this list, right?
Ah he of the age-less face and unmoving barnet. Javier was Inter’s right back and captain for about 426 years and he never broke a sweat or aged a wrinkle in that whole fucking time. A pillar of consistency, the sight of Zanetti marauding down the right wing, overlapping whichever lucky bastard of a winger was bestowed the pleasure of playing in front of him, was a regular feature of Inter matches for a whole era.
So good, so consistent, it was almost boring. Perhaps you could call him a kind of ‘Argentinian Gary Neville’? Or perhaps that would be well harsh? Grab a Zanetti tee here.
You might remember Taribo for his late career stint at Derby County. But if you do, you’re either a Derby fan or a bit mental. A defender blessed with raw pace and ability on the ball, Taribo was as iconic in the 90’s as he was good and almost more importantly, he was everyone’s go to free transfer on Football Manager 1999/2000. But if that wasn’t enough to include him on this list, i also met him once in a lift at a football event* and he was as excited to take a selfie with us clowns as we were with him. What a guy.
*I also found Paul Dickov’s Oyster card at the same event. If anyone’s got Dickie’s details, let him know. Ta.
This became a toss up between Boban and Manu Rui Costa. Two smouldering AC playmakers of differing era’s. All deft touches, defence splitting through balls and hair you just want to run your chubby fingers through. But for the fact that Boban’s finest years were spent with Milan (while Rui Costa made his name with Fiorentina) and for being part of that brilliant Croatia team (of Suker, Prosineski et al) we’re gonna plump for Zvonimir here.
Oh and it also gives us the perfect excuse to plug our exclusive Boban T-shirts. Go buy one, innit.
Before there was Buffon there was, well…. actually there was Angelo Peruzzi. But before there was Buffon and Peruzzi there was Gianluca Pagliuca. The Elvis Presley of Goalkeepers. Gianluca had a jawline that could open a tin of BBQ beans, hair so immaculately coiffed it stayed firmly in place no matter how much he dived, and sleeves cut off at the elbows. A goalkeeper with genuine swagger who wasn’t half bad at keeping the ball out of the back of the net too, which is handy.
Few players sum up this list more than the left footed Uruguayan free kick king. With his pudding bowl haircut and teeth so bucked he would make Luis Suarez look like a Colgate model, Alvaro already stood out from the crowd of gifted South American playmakers in Serie A.
But then of course, there was that left foot and those free kicks. I’ll front up here - I barely remember Alvaro scoring a goal that wasn’t an expertly curled set piece. I’m sure he did, but there’s something more mythical about someone that existed almost solely to curl home glorious dead ball goals and thus I shall continue to remember Inter’s playmaker this way. We dedicated a bootleg to the great man, buy it here.
Before he led the line for Harry Redknapp's Portsmouth years ago, and before he was scoring illegal goals for Arsenal in the FA Cup, Nwankwu Kanu was the tall, leggy Nigerian forward who played for Internazionale in Serie A and dribbled like the ball was gaffer taped to his size 12 Nikes.
In reality, Kanu’s stint at Inter wasn’t particularly long or memorable, but it was here that he was brought to the attention of many kids a bit too young to know him from Ajax’s famous ‘94 team. It also helped that he was part of that World Cup ‘98 Nigeria side that also boasted the likes of Jay Jay Okocha, Daniel Amokachi and the aforementioned Taribo West.
Add that to the fact he overcame a serious heart condition and Kanu always had something more about him than the average Serie A striker.
And so to round this out, we’ll finish on the most obvious Milanese legend of them all. It might seem uninspired to include him here but let's be honest - we are uninspiring people, AND it’s Paolo fucking Maldini. How could we not? Now watching over the club from a directors box like some chiselled statue of David while his son continues the family tradition, Maldini once encapsulated everything about AC.
He was methodically, routinely, immovably good, born and raised in Milan, painfully stylish on and off the pitch and well liked by everyone who wasn’t an Inter fan. Not just this, but his ridiculous longevity saw him transcend multiple era’s, pre-dating this ‘Golden’ one and continuing into the late noughties where he was captain of Milan’s star studded Champions League winning side.
Take a bow Paolo. Then piss off back to your directors box with your annoying good looks and blessed family genes. You disgust me. Obviously we have new bootleg for this fella. Buy it here.
There were, of course, a number of players who could legitimately claim a place on this list, but missed out because of my questionable criteria, glaring inconsistencies and lack of an editor to tell me when I’d fucked up.
Players such as Roberto Baggio (who played for both clubs at opposite ends of his career) Adriano (more famous for his ability on Pro Evo than on a real football pitch) Rui Costa, Ronaldo Nazario (of course), Andriy Shevchenko, Cristian Panucci (Played for both, had great hair) Andrea Pirlo (played for both, had great hair) and Oliver Bierhoff amongst others.
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Words by Paul Kocur