Milan under Arrigo Sacchi
The beginning of the 80s was probably the darkest period in AC Milan’s history. In 1980, the club was relegated in Serie B by the Italian Football Federation after a betting scandal with Lazio, which would come to be known as the first Totonero. The following year would see Milan returning in Serie A by winning the second division, but the next season was their worst, seeing Milan relegated once again after finishing on 14th in 1982. It’s still their lowest ranking to this date, the consequences of the Totonero scandal being filled with a period of mediocrity. Eventually, Milan promoted back to Serie A in 1983 but the next three years would see a period in which their best performance would be a qualification in the UEFA Cup in 1985, and an eventual elimination in the third round by Belgian side Waregem (a club which stopped existing in 2001). After years of financial troubles and a lack of success on the pitch, entrepreneur Silvio Berlusconi bought the club, aiming to restore it’s glory days.
As I said in my first article on this blog, Milan’s elimination by Parma (a Serie B side at that time) in the Coppa Italia in 1997, after a 1-0 win on San Siro, and a blank draw on Ennio Tardini, was the catalyst for Parma’s rise in the 90s. It was also the thing that convinced Silvio Berlusconi to hire Arrigo Sacchi, Parma’s then coach, as the new manager with an ambitious project to revive the team. Milan’s transfer campaign back then was leaning towards this goal, as Berlusconi purcashed three Dutch players, Marco van Basten, Frank Rijkaard and Ruud Gullit, along with the Italian stars Roberto Donadoni, Carlo Ancelotti and Giovanni Galli. With a strong attacking 4–4–2 formation and defensive tactics highly inspired by Helenio Herrera’s Catenaccio, Sacchi enjoyed an instant success at the San Siro, leading Milan to its first Serie A title for nine years, won over the Diego Maradona-led Napoli, in his debut season, following up the league title with a Supercoppa Italiana in 1988.
Milan’s return in the European Cup was a resounding one. After passing through future winners Red Star Belgrade and Werder Bremen, Milan had dispatched Real Madrid 6–1 on aggregate in the semi-final, a result which almost represented the passing of the mantle for best European club. Milan won the European Cup after a resounding 4–0 win over Steaua Bucuresti in the final in 1989. They won another European Cup the following year, after victories against HJK Helsinki, Real Madrid, KV Mechelen, Bayern Munich and a 1–0 in the final against Benfica.
The following season saw them defeated by eventual runners-up Marseille in the quarter-final, and finish second in Serie A behind Sampdoria, while they were eliminated in the semi-finals of the Coppa Italia by eventual champions Roma. Afterwards, Sacchi left Milan in 1991, and was appointed manager of Italy, leading them to a World Cup final in 1994. Milan’s success continued afterwards with Fabio Capello.