Roma vs. Milan – a history of champions’ destinies deeply entwined

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Nils Liedholm, Carlo Ancelotti, Fabio Capello – these are just three of the names who made both Roma and Milan big in the history of football. On Sunday the Stadio Olimpico will, for the 74th time, witness another battle between these two footballing giants. Sometimes the fight between the Giallorossi and the Rossoneri has really changed the course of events in Serie A with the two clubs’ destinies having often been deeply interwoven.

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Italian media have long since predicted that Carlo Ancelotti’s next port of call as Coach will be at Roma – the club the Milan Coach graced for eight years as a player, winning one Scudetto and four Coppa Italia. Moreover, last season the same newspapers and televisions bet on Luciano Spalletti’s move from the Capital to Milanello. Now, both of them are still sitting on their benches, but with respective staff and supporters looking at them through a prism of expectation. In fact, the next clash seems to be more than a match, perhaps more aptly described as an exam. This was the way it played out last spring, when Roma defeated the then World Club champions 2-1 with only ten minutes to play. Ludovic Giuly and Mirko Vucinic scored two crucial goals when everybody was quite sure the first strike from Kaka should have been the victorious one.

So, Ancelotti and Spalletti are easily predicted to follow in the footsteps of previous football masters who run either as Coaches or players on both sides. Fabio Capello played for la Magica from 1967 to 1969, then for Milan from 1976 to 1979. However, Don Fabio is mostly remembered by the fans of il Diavolo for winning four championships in the early ’90s as Coach of The Invincibles (a team built on players such as Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Franco Baresi and Paulo Maldini), as well as the triumphant rise to the title in 2001, when he was Coach of the Giallorossi.

That year the big match was played by the Tevere on May 27. The Roma striker Vincenzo Montella scored a magnificent goal managing to lob over Sebastiano Rossi who was loitering off his line. Thanks to the l’Aeroplanino, Roma drew 1-1, collecting a vital point needed to secure the Scudetto three weeks later. Only one year earlier, Roma-Milan had ended in a referee-drama, with a furious Capello complaining about a penalty that Alfredo Trentalange assigned to Milan attacker Oliver Bierhoff. Once again the teams drew 1-1 – the Rossoneri stole the fourth position from the Romanisti and the last spot in the forthcoming Champions League.


Just two years before, another after-match press conference was enacted by the same character in a similar plot. In fact, the Roma’s 1998 whitewash over the Meneghini was absolutely remarkable for the fans of la Magica with the final score an unbelievable 5-0. Capello, at that time coaching Milan, went to the conference room and burst out: “I feel ashamed”. Then he vanished.

Even if Montella is always on the minds of Roma’s faithful fans, the most prolific striker in the history of this match remains Milan’s Pietro Paolo Virdis. He punished the Giallorossi’s goalkeeper six times between 1985 and 1988. But the 1986/87 Capocannoniere is also recalled by supporters for the controversial penalty that allowed the Milan side to win one of the most controversial clashes with the Capitolini. December 13, 1987 – Virdis scored the winning goal for the Rossoneri at San Siro. Notwithstanding, the judge assigned the walkover (0-2) to Roma, because Milanesi hooligans had thrown a flare at Franco Tancredi. The legendary goalkeeper who had played for eleven years with Roma had to drop out of the match, replaced by Angelo Peruzzi, appearing for the first time in Serie A. Roma had been waiting 19 years to win in Milan again.



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Throughout those years and before them, the figure of Liedholm frequently is brought into focus. As a player the Baron was famous for being part of Sweden’s Gre-No-Li, forming a legendary trio of strikers alongside Gunnar Gren and Gunnar Nordahl. The 1950-match between Milan and Roma made history – those turbulent 90 minutes ended 6-2 with Liedholm scoring one goal and Nordahl a double.

The famous midfielder had won laurels galore with his teammates (four Scudetti among them) but later he became an equally efficient tactician too. The Swede coached Milan in three separate periods and Roma on four different occasions, but it was in his second spell in the Capital that he led the Giallorossi onto the path to glory. In the 1982-83 season Liedholm guided Roma to its second Scudetto triumph in history, the first in 41 years. Moreover Nils Liedholm led the Giallorossi to three Coppa Italia victories, in 1981, 1983 and 1984. They also reached the final of the European Cup that year, losing to Liverpool on penalties.

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Coming back to more recent times, once again off-the-ball disputes stole the headlines rather than the game itself. It was 2003 when Milan defeated Roma in the Coppa Italia two-legged final. The situation at San Siro was electric, after Roma’s 4-1 collapse in the first game at Olimpico: the second battle ended 2-2, with Giallorossi strikers Antonio Cassano and Francesco Totti both sent off – Cassano for disputing an officials decision and Totti for reacting violently to several fouls against him during the game. Il Pupone refused to take the runners-up medal after the match and blamed the Milanisti, stating their unprofessional taunting during the game as unacceptable behaviour.

With such a history and despite the wintertime, the atmosphere on the pitch will certainly be very hot on Sunday. The Roma-Milan saga continues with many episodes to be written.

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