FRANCO BARESI allows himself a smile and a look of bemusement. The AC Milan luminary has been asked how he would deal with Lionel Messi, as those currently wearing the colours of the Italian club must do on Barcelona’s turf this week in the return leg of the clubs’ Champions League quarter-final contest.
The tie is delicately poised after a typically obdurate display from the San Siro behemoths put the mockers on Messi (pictured below) and resulted in a scoreless draw. At stake is more than a semi-final against, in all likelihood, Chelsea. Barça are hunting their fourth Champions League in six years. That would be one more than the Rossoneri rampaged to in their five-year golden period from 1989, an extraordinary spell that made the team of Baresi, Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard, Roberto Donadoni, Daniele Massaro, Alessandro Costacurta and many more, recognised as the greatest club side in history. It’s a title the current Catalan side are putting under serious threat.
“It is very difficult to tackle Messi,” said Baresi, who at 51 looks like an ageing rock-star and was in Glasgow for the Rangers legends game. “To limit Barcelona is always difficult. When you give away something small it is always too much. AC Milan did the maximum and with a little bit of luck AC can score the goals [in Spain].”
The crowning glory of Milan’s peerless period, and, many a poll has contended, of continental club competition, was the 4-0 demolition of Barcelona in the 1994 Champions League final. It was achieved despite Barcelona entering the game as favourites – as they will this week – and Fabio Capello being without Baresi, Van Basten or Costacurta. That night in Athens defensive frailties in the Barcelona make-up were exposed. Baresi believes they still exist in the present all-conquering side, who have conceded more goals in this season’s Champions League than any other side in the last eight.
“Barcelona always give one or two chances,” Baresi said. “You have to shoot all the time. Otherwise they find ten chances. Otherwise they’ll hold on to the ball the whole time.” Holding on to the honour of AC Milan producing the all-time best club side is the challenge for the Italians this week.