Born and raised in Rome, Nesta owes the start of his career to his older brother. Fernando Nesta was advised to play a sport due to a chronic back problem and thus his father enrolled him at the local football club and due to relentless pleas and burning jealousy from the younger Alessandro, he too was enrolled. Alessandro’s talent was soon spotted by Francesco Rocca, who was then a scout for Roma, but coming from a family devoted to Lazio Nesta’s father forbade his son from joining their archrivals and eventually he began playing for Lazio’s youth academy at the age of 9. The starlet rose through the ranks by playing in a range of positions such as midfielder and striker before settling in as a defender. He eventually graduated to the senior team in 1993 when he gained notoriety in a training ground accident in which he broke Paul Gascoigne’s leg. Despite alleged tears, Nesta soon made up for the blunder with composed and mature performances that earned him the captain’s armband at the tender age of 21.
An elegant player whose sophistication masked his toughness, the defender inspired his beloved Biancocelesti to a number of awards including the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup and the then elusive Serie A title before his costly transfer to Milan in 2002. In an interview, Nesta recalled one of his worst experiences suffered during his time in Lazio when he had to face the Brazilian Ronaldo in the 1998 UEFA Cup final against Inter. Assured of his abilities, Nesta was incapable of understanding just how Ronaldo managed to get past him and how the Milanese giants scored three. After the match, Sandro watched countless videos to see what errors he may have committed to have suffered such a heavy defeat but after a lengthy period of time he concluded that he did not err, Ronaldo was simply unstoppable and the best striker he had ever come across. So meticulous with his approach to defending, Nesta forever studies his performances in search of ways of improving.
Despite having forged an incredibly tight defensive partnership alongside Paolo Maldini in Milan, it was his partnership with Fabio Cannavaro in the Azzurri that was lauded as the best in Europe. The defensive duo created an incredibly rigid and secure partnership that was reminiscent of Claudio Gentile and Gaetano Scirea’s alliance. Whilst Cannavaro has long admired the man-making strategy, Nesta was used to the Azzurri’s zonal marking defensive approach and thanks to his height and aerial prowess excelled at it and was always able to guard the rear splendidly. Strong, tactically aware and with technical ability unbecoming of a central defender, he had the misfortune of being cursed with injuries throughout Italy’s past three World Cups, forcing him to withdraw prematurely from each tournament and prevented him from showcasing his skills at the world’s grandest stage.
Eventually, Nesta finally had the chance to exhibit his extraordinary skills in Euro 2000 under Dino Zoff, his former Coach at Lazio. Free from injury, the world could finally witness a perfect example of a modern central defender: skilled on the ball, powerful in the air, able to initiate attacks and break-up opposing play, confident when surging ahead and capable of diffusing any threats from the wings as well as the centre – Nesta was the embodiment of an Italian central defender. Furthermore, his serene playing style and ability to remain calm has seen him portrayed as the silent leader who dictates play at the back. When Italy were forced to play high flying Netherlands in the semi final, a team that had just scored 6 against Yugoslavia, it was a clash of two differing footballing cultures. Nesta was an immeasurable force at the back that tackled everything in sight and despite being a man down (and thanks to a large dose of luck that meant Holland failed to convert two penalties), Italy’s defence stood firm and left the Dutch bewildered at their inability to penetrate a ten-man team. Nesta’s performance was so outstanding throughout the competition that the player was named in UEFA’s Team of the Tournament.
Despite his age and a career threatening injury that had the public predicting his retirement last year, Alessandro is still the man Milan depend on every week. His ability to hold the defensive line so high up, his decisive partnership with Thiago Silva and his assured presence at the back allows the full-backs the freedom to roam forward and allow Leonardo the luxury of playing his preferred style of attacking football. When asked to predict the potential result of Sunday night’s Derby della Madonnina, Carlo Ancelotti remarked: “A lot will depend on Nesta’s presence. If he is not there, then Milan are about 30 per cent less effective.” Indeed the ex-Rossoneri Coach was right, without the mobile defender who possesses an impeccable positional sense, Inter revelled in the comfort of a rickety defence.
Name – Alessandro Nesta
Age – 33 (March 19, 1976)
Position – Centre-back
Clubs (appearances/goals) – Lazio (193/1), Milan (175/6)
Club level honours – Serie A (2000, 2004), Coppa Italia (1998, 2000, 2003), Supercoppa Italiana (1998, 2000, 2004), UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup (1999), UEFA Super Cup (1999, 2003, 2007), UEFA Champions League (2003, 2007) FIFA Club World Cup (2007)
Nationality – Italian
National honours FIFA World Cup (2006)
Past Lessons in Calcio
Alessandro Del Piero
Marco van Basten