Nereo Rocco is number 14 in 90min’s Top 50 Great Managers of All Time series. Follow the rest of the series over the course of the next three weeks. You can find Wilf Dutton’s Rocco career overview here.
In two separate spells at AC Milan, Nereo Rocco led the club to their first two European Cup triumphs, in turn presiding over two of the greatest teams in Italian football history.
That, in case you’re a Calcio Luddite, is quite the history to etch yourself in to. Naturally, much of the attention on the Catenaccio master’s all-time XI will go towards the defence (and it’s worthy, believe me), but don’t negate the rest, as so many have in the intervening years of Cantenaccio miseducation.
Rocco’s sides could be particularly potent when they wanted to be, they just knew how to soak up an opponent’s pressure before they went up the other way.
Here, in a 3-3-2-2 formation, is Nereo’s greatest XI.
Goalkeepers & Defenders
Fabio Cudicini (GK): Yes, father of Chelsea assistant Carlo, Fabio was one of the tallest goalkeepers of his day, with his gangly dimensions overtly visible on a pitch. An excellent shot-stopper, he was egregiously never called up by Italy, but remains a totem of Italian goalkeeping.
Cesare Maldini (CB): The man pictured above, and the father of Paolo, was the heartbeat of Rocco’s style, his Triestini brother off the pitch, and his eyes, ears and mouth on it. A true great, whose legacy has only improved with the standing of his son.
Karl-Heinz Schnellinger (CB/LB): The Big *Expletive* German at the heart of Rocco’s second stint in Milan, Schnellinger was as imposing a presence as he sounds. Nicknamed the ‘Volkswagen’ cause he was just so damned reliable.
Angelo Anquilletti (CB/RB): One of the best man-markers Italy has ever seen and, as he aged, a similarly impressive sweeper. Took Johan Cruyff out of the game in the 1969 European Cup final.
Giovanni Trapattoni (CDM): ‘Il Trap’ was the link between Rocco’s defence and attack. He was his anchor. And, in that capacity, he is also the man who took his methods on board with the most significance, becoming the most decorated manager in Italian club football.
Roberto Rosato (CDM): ‘Angel Face’ as he was known by his Milanese teammates was anything but on the field, being widely regarded as one of the hardest-nosed players around. Could step further up the pitch when required, though, and was cute when he wanted to be.
Giovanni Lodetti (CDM): Signora Stamina, as I’ve just coined him, Lodetti was the engine of Rocco’s Rossoneri, and an astute reader of the game.
Gianni Rivera (CAM): The artist amongst all the industry, Rivera was probably the greatest playmaker Rocco ever had. He wasn’t just a creative outlet, either. He captained the side for 12 years.
Angelo Sormani (CAM): The Brazilian-born Italian international was one of those treasured players who could essentially play in any attacking position, and scored in Milan’s triumphant 1969 European Cup final.
Pierino Prati (CF): One of only three men alongside, err, Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo Di Stefano, to score a hat-trick in a European Cup final. They came in the 4-1 dispatching of Rinus Michels’ prized Ajax side in 1969. Need you know any more?
Jose Altafini (CF): He may not have scored a hat-trick, but Altafini came just one short in the 1963 European Cup final against Benfica, bagging both of Milan’s goals in the 2-1 comeback victory over Eusebio and co. Not a bad front two, then, if you’re ever in need of a goal in the biggest club game in the world.
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