Monday 09 September 2019, 09:00

Milan’s legendary Azzurri leaders

  • Milan has produced some of Italy’s most iconic captains

  • From Meazza to Maldini we look at five of them

  • The Best FIFA Football Awards heads to Milan on 23 September

While the city of Milan has created its fair share of footballing idols, some have gone a step further than most in writing their names into football's annals.

Some born in this metropolis of football have not only starred for one or both of the city's great clubs - AC Milan and Inter Milan - but etched their names on the country’s heart in Azzurri blue by leading the national team.

Unrivalled leaders, titanic players and iconic figures from the city, whose names stretch far beyond northern Italy, have pulled on the armband. We’ve taken a closer look at five notable examples, including two of the Italy’s greatest ever players.

Virgilio Fossati (12 caps, 1 goal; 1910-15)

The first Milanese player to lead out the national team, Fossati was also among the first 11 to represent the country, turning out in their maiden official game against France – a 6-2 win. However, his career was cut short tragically when he was killed during the First World War.

Renzo de Vecchi (43 caps, 0 goals; 1910-25)

Though he would go on to be a Genoa legend, De Vecchi began his career at his hometown club of Milan and still stands as the youngest player pull on the Azzurri shirt, coming in their second ever game. Such was the 16-year-old’s prodigy, he would earn the nickname ‘the Son of God’.

Originally a dazzling left winger, he slotted back into defence, going on to feature at the Italians' first three trips to the Olympic Football Tournament in 1912, 1920 and 1924.

Giuseppe Meazza (53 caps, 33 goals; 1930-39)

Italy’s first true footballing celebrity, Meazza is rightly regarded as one of the country’s greatest ever players. He wore both the blue and red of Inter and Milan during a distinguished career, though his time with the Nerazzurri is where his legend was truly formed. His name has adorned the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, often referred to as the San Siro, since shortly after his death in 1979.

Dazzling creativity, expert goalscoring ability and his unparalleled technique saw the Inter faithful name him ‘il Genio’ (the Genius). Having starred in their 1934 World Cup triumph, he took the armband before they reclaimed the title in France four years later, becoming one of just four Italians to lift the Trophy twice.

Guiseppe Bergomi (81 caps, 6 goals; 1982-98)

While De Vecchi may be Italy’s youngest ever, Bergomi – who at 18 is their youngest debutant post-World War II – certainly earns marks for his instant impact. Winning his first cap just before the 1982 World Cup, his second appearance came as a substitute to help deny one of Brazil’s greatest sides a place in the semi-finals.

Having impressed against Poland, he was then thrust into the limelight again. Mature beyond his years – only Pele was younger when appearing in a World Cup Final – he neutralised the explosive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge to help Gli Azzurri to their first title in 44 years.

With a career marshalling Inter’s backline for two decades, Bergomi would go on to lead out his nation at a home World Cup, where a record run of 518 minutes without conceding helped them to bronze. The archetypal unyielding Italian centre-back, he would make his final appearance for his country at the 1998 World Cup.

Paolo Maldini (126 caps, 7 goals; 1988-2002)

Known my many as ‘il Capitano’, Maldini defined the 1990s when it came to the Italian rearguard, mixing elegance, precision and dogged determination when facing up to some of the era’s greatest forwards. He was only the second son of an Azzurri captain to also don the armband, and Gianluigi Buffon and Fabio Canavarro are the only men to have worn it – or the national team jersey – on more occasions.

Having made his debut two years earlier, a 21-year-old Maldini would feature in all seven games of Italy 1990, proving a reliable rock at left wing-back. Over his career he would operate at both left-back and within the centre, thanks to his dominance in the air and tackling precision you could set your watch to.

He would go on to feature at a further three World Cups, including reaching the Final in 1994, when Italy lost out on penalties to Brazil. With 23 appearances, only Lothar Matthaus has featured in more games, but no-one has played more World Cup finals minutes than Maldini.