It has been a good week for Italian football. On Tuesday, Juventus took a major step forward in Europe, dispatching Barcelona 3-0 in the first leg of a titanic Champions League quarterfinal, while Thursday saw Silvio Berlusconi finally sell AC Milan. The deal with a Chinese consortium had dragged on so long that many – including this writer – wondered if it would actually ever happen at all.
With the formalities now completed, focus in the northern Italian city can switch from those endless “delays in closing” to the prestigious Derby della Madonnina that sees the Rossoneri take on neighbours Inter.
The two sides arrive at this game sitting sixth and seventh, neither enjoying a particularly vintage year but the Derby offers the perfect chance for both to look towards a brighter future. Each has a talented crop of young players and Nerazzurri boss Stefano Pioli has certainly had a positive impact on his side, much like Vincenzo Montella has at Milan.
Inter will be hoping their star man Mauro Icardi can fire them to glory, while Gigio Donnarumma – the latest darling of the Curva Sud – will look to deny him. Both have become idols to their respective fan bases, but try to imagine them changing places… it seems impossible and implausible, but this is one rivalry that has seen far more famous and beloved players swap red for blue or vice versa.
What follows here is an XI made up of players to have turned out in the famous colours of both teams during the course of their careers.
Goalkeeper: Lorenzo Buffon
Gigi Buffon may never have called San Siro his home, but decades before the Juventus skipper shot to prominence, his grandfather’s cousin was standing between the posts for AC Milan. Lorenzo Buffon represented the Rossoneri for over a decade, winning four league titles before leaving for a season with Genoa and then returning to the city for a three-year stint with Inter.
He won another Serie A crown there and represented Italy at the 1962 World Cup in Chile.
Right Back: Christian Panucci
As Fabio Capello and Arrigo Sacchi led Milan through arguably their most dominant era, they did so with an ever-evolving cast of characters. The likes of Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Costacurta may have been mainstays in the side, but others rotated in and out of the club, with Christian Panucci among those to step into the system and shine.
He joined the Rossoneri in 1993 as a long-term replacement for Mauro Tassotti, helping the club lift the Champions League title in his first season, but a few years later he followed Capello to Real Madrid. In 1999 he returned to Italy with Inter, subsequently enjoying a nomadic end to his career that took in spells with Chelsea, Monaco, Roma and Parma.
Central Defence: Fulvio Collovati
Few players have had a more rollercoaster start to their professional careers than Fulvio Collovati. Less than two years after the Milan youth product had broken into the first team he was a Serie A champion, but 12 months later he was playing in the second division, the club relegated for their part in the Totonero scandal that rocked Italian football in 1980.
With him in central defence they yo-yo’d between the top flight and Serie B over the next three seasons, but Collovati’s rock solid play saw him become part of the Italy team that won the 1982 World Cup. That same year he moved to Inter, making over 100 appearances before moving to Udinese.
Central Defence: Franco Baresi
With all due respect to Thomas Helveg and Taribo West, they’re not Franco Baresi. Strictly speaking, the classiest central defender of his generation never played for Inter after being rejected by the club as a youngster. They instead signed his brother Giuseppe who was a solid player in his own right, but Franco went across town, broke into the starting XI and stayed there for twenty years, winning six Scudetti and three European Cups. What a mistake to make!
Left-Back: Francesco Coco
A technically gifted youngster who blossomed in the Milan youth sector, Francesco Coco was hailed as the next Paolo Maldini, his ability initially prompting the Italy legend to move into central defence. He left for Inter in 2002, winning a Coppa Italia but struggling with injuries and never living up to his early promise.
Central Midfield: Clarence Seedorf
As if Coco’s demise wasn’t bad enough, Inter also had to live with the fact that the deal was a part exchange that saw Clarence Seedorf move in the opposite direction. A versatile midfielder who won trophies everywhere he went, the Dutchman became a key player under Carlo Ancelotti, helping Milan to claim two Scudetti, two Champions League crowns and one Coppa Italia among many other trophies.
Central Midfield: Andrea Pirlo
One badly executed swap deal is bad enough, but two is unforgivable. However, just 12 months before the Seedorf-Coco error, Milan sent a raft of players – including Argentinian midfielder Guly – across town, with Andrea Pirlo among those coming the other way.
The rest is history, the Italian going on to be the best deep-lying playmaker of his era, winning for both club and country in a decade of sustained success. But the Rossoneri would then repeat Inter’s mistake, allowing Pirlo to join Juventus only to see him rediscover his best form and spark a rival of the Turin giants.
Central Midfield: Victor Benitez
While clearly not as familiar to fans today as Pirlo or Seedorf, Victor Benitez undoubtedly deserves his place in this side. An energetic midfielder, the Peru international joined Milan in 1962 and helped the club to win the European Cup in his debut campaign as he did a stellar job in marshalling Benfica star Eusebio in the final against Benfica. He then bounced around a number of clubs, spending the 1967/68 season with Inter and won the Coppa Italia with Roma the following year.
Forward: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
From arguably the most unheralded name on the list to a man needing no introduction, Zlatan Ibrahimovic gets the nod in attack after being more effective with both clubs than a couple of other well-known stars. While Hernan Crespo and Christian Vieri were stars at Inter but struggled to match that in red-and-black, the big Swede bagged 57 goals in 88 Serie A games for the Nerazzurri, then fired Milan to the title with 42 in 61 appearances.
Few players have been as dominant or devastating as Ronaldo in his prime, scoring at a staggering rate for PSV and Barcelona before joining Inter. There, the phenomenal Brazilian found the back of the net 49 times in 68 league games and helped them win the UEFA Cup, returning with Milan after his spell at Real Madrid.
Forward Giuseppe Meazza
Playing for Inter from 1927 until 1940, Giuseppe Meazza plundered an unbelievable 282 goals in all competitions, winning numerous trophies and saw himself claim Serie A top scorer honours on three separate occasions. He also helped Italy to consecutive World Cup triumphs during this period, surprisingly then moving to Milan in 1940 where he stayed for two seasons and netting a goal against Inter in the derby.
He then spent time with Juventus, Varese and Atalanta before returning to Inter for the final season of his career, and following his retirement, San Siro was renamed “The Stadio Giuseppe Meazza” in his honour.