We take a look at the greatest footballers who have represented the Rossoneri throughout their illustrious history.
The last player not called Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo to win the Ballon d’Or, Kaka spent four seasons at Real Madrid but the best years of his career undoubtedly came at Milan. The attacking midfielder joined the Italian outfit in 2003 and won the Serie A title in his debut campaign; surprisingly, that would be the only Scudetto triumph he was involved in at San Siro, but Kaka did help inspire Milan to the Champions League trophy in 2007.
“For two, maybe three seasons he was the best player in the world… there was nothing he couldn’t do,” compatriot Ronaldinho said in 2015.
Pirlo recently announced his retirement from the game, leaving behind a wonderful legacy thanks to his exploits with Milan, Juventus and the Italian national team. Pirlo spent three years on the books of rivals Inter early in his career, but it was on the other side of the city where the deep-lying midfielder established himself as one of the world’s foremost playmakers.
Pirlo made 401 appearances for Milan in total, winning two Serie A titles, two Champions Leagues and a Coppa Italia between 2001 and 2011. He went on to win four more Scudetti with Juve, who signed him on a free transfer after Milan surprisingly deemed him surplus to requirements.
Often viewed as the greatest African footballer of the 20th century, “King George”, as he is affectionately referred to, collected many a trophy when playing for Milan, as well as for his individual feats, over a spectacular 14-year career.
He won the Ballon d’Or and was FIFA World Player of the Year in 1995, and the Serie A title with Milan in 1996. He has been in office as the 25th President of Liberia since January 2018. Not a bad life at all!
Signed from PSV in 1987, Gullit formed part of the Dutch trio – alongside Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard – that was so crucial to Milan’s success under Arrigo Sacchi. He won the Ballon d’Or a few months after moving to Italy and also ended his debut campaign with a Serie A winner’s medal as Sacchi’s side squeezed past Diego Maradona’s Napoli.
The midfielder-cum-forward won two more league championships during his time on the peninsula, as well as European Cup crowns in 1989 and 1990. Gullit scored 53 goals in 165 games in all competitions for Milan – those figures would be higher were it not for some bad luck with injuries.
The Ukrainian sharpshooter is Milan’s second highest goalscorer of all time having found the back of the net 175 times in his 322 matches for the club across two spells. Shevchenko first joined the Italian giants in 1999, but had to wait four years until his first trophy with the club – the 2003 Coppa Italia, which was quickly followed by the Champions League.
Shevchenko fired Milan to the Serie A title the subsequent season, but heartbreak followed in 2004/05, when Liverpool launched a stunning comeback in the final of the Champions League to deny Carlo Ancelotti’s men a second trophy in three years.
Only three men made more appearances for Milan than Rivera, and only two scored more goals – which is even more impressive when you remember the 1968 European Championship winner was not even a striker.
Rivera, who now works as a Member of the European Parliament, netted 164 goals from midfield between 1960 and 1979, during which time he won three Scudetti, four domestic cups, two Cup Winners’ Cups and two European Cups. The ex-Italy international also won the Ballon d’Or in 1969 after finishing as runner-up six years previously.
No player has scored more goals for Milan than Nordahl, who struck 221 times in his 268 appearances for the Rossoneri. The Swedish striker joined the Italian outfit from IFK Norrkoping and won a pair of Serie A titles at San Siro, as well as two Latin Cups in 1951 and 1956.
A prolific forward, Nordahl finished as Serie A’s top scorer in five of his eight seasons with Milan, while only Silvio Piola and Francesco Totti have found the net more often in the league’s long and illustrious history.
Van Basten’s career was cut short due to a persistent ankle injury which forced him to retire at 28, but he was still one of the best centre-forwards the world has ever seen. The Dutchman joined Milan midway through the 1987/88 season and won his first Serie A title a few months later; two more Scudetti followed, with Van Basten – who scored 124 goals in his 201 outings for the club – also getting his hands on a pair of European Cups and three Ballon d’Ors.
“It is between Romario and Van Basten,” was Diego Maradona’s reply when he was asked who the greatest player he ever saw was.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest defenders in the history of the game, Baresi progressed through the youth ranks at Milan and established himself as a key part of the first team while he was still a teenager. The centre-half spent 20 years with the Rossoneri in total – he was captain for 15 of those – and by the time of his retirement in 1997, he had played 719 matches for the club.
In total, Baresi won nine major trophies at Milan: six Serie A titles and three European Cups. He was the runner-up in the 1989 Ballon d’Or vote, which was won by team-mate Marco van Basten.
Juventus goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon may overtake him later this season, but at the time of writing Maldini is Serie A’s all-time record appearance maker having played 647 games in the Italian top flight. All of those came at Milan, where he is – unsurprisingly – also the player with the most games under his belt: 902 in all competitions, a mammoth 183 more than second-placed Franco Baresi.
An exemplary defender who was world-class whether deployed at full-back or in the heart of the backline, Maldini won seven league titles, five European Cups and a single Coppa Italia between 1985 and 2009.
By Greg Lea
Greg Lea is a freelance football writer for FourFourTwo, The Blizzard and various others. Follow his Twitter account @GregLeaFootball for anything and everything related to soccer and more.