Filippo Galli stands tall in the Milan hall of fame with fifteen Rossoneri seasons under his belt. From Milan invincible seasons and three Champions League trophies to captaining Watford and becoming the head of Milan’s youth system, this is the story of Filippo Galli with help from the man himself.
How was it learning your trade in the Milan youth sector?
“It was fantastic, a dream come true. I was a Milan fan since the age of six when my Aunt and my Uncle brought me to San Siro to watch the Coppa dei Campioni match of AC Milan – Celtic. In my first days in Milanello, the first team training ground I met Rivera, a legend and I also had the honour to train with him. Unbelievable!”
In your debut season as a professional you were on loan at Pescara in Serie C in 1982/83. You lost to Juventus in the cup that year 2-1 after a wonderful goal from Michel Platini, how was it playing against a huge team like that so early in your career?
“To be honest I don’t remember Platini scoring but I remember very well Roberto Bettega and his elbows!”
In 1983/84 you made your Serie A debut against Verona after returning to Milan. Luther Blissett scored his first Milan goal that day – what was the emotion like having made your debut?
“It was a great day. I remember the crowd in front of me as soon I stepped on to the pitch. An indescribable emotion”
In your first season you played 36 domestic games as Milan tried to settle back into Serie A, in Serie B the year before, what was the mood like? And how was it playing alongside Franco Baresi and Mauro Tassotti in defence?
“As you mentioned the season before I was in Pescara and so I can not exactly describe the atmosphere at the Club. I can tell you that our fans never stopped supporting the team. Franco (Baresi) and Mauro (Tassotti) were both 3 years older than me so set an example for me at the beginning. Afterwards we became a solid group on and off the pitch”
In 1984/85 Paolo Maldini was promoted to the first team and the birth of what many see as the best defence ever had begun, could you sense something special?
“Maldini was very young but was soon to be ready. The work with Mister Liedholm was important and was preparatory to what made the difference : the methodology brought by Mister Sacchi and a new way of approaching the game”
In 1985/86 you had your first taste of European football and played every minute of the UEFA cup as Milan lost to KSV Waregem in the last 16, how was that experience?
“Even if it was only coppa UEFA, the experience was very important. The atmosphere in a crowded S.Siro stadium in the evening is always fantastic. Unfortunately a penalty conceded by the referee for a foul committed 2 meters off the penalty area didn’t allow us to go on”
In 1986/87, with Berlusconi recently buying the club and with Fabio Capello managing the last six games of the season after Nils Liedholm was fired – could you tell things were getting better on and off the pitch?
“When President Berlusconi through his Company Fininvest took control of the Club, soon things changed. Berlusconi brought to the club great organization. The players had only to think about the pitch and do their best in the match. Any other problem would have been sorted out by the Club!”
In 1987/88 – Costacurta returned from his loan spell with Monza and Milan hired Arrigo Sacchi – you lifted the title for the first time since 1979 with you only missing five minutes of Serie A action all season. You conceded just 12 goals in 30 league games, how was that season? Also that season Milan signed Van Basten and Gullit – how big of an impact did they have?
“It was a fantastic season both to me and the team. Gullit’s impact was great and even Van Basten gave us a great help in the second part of the season because he got injured soon.”
In 1988/89 you only featured ten times but Rijkaard joined the dutch contingent and Milan lifted the European cup – beating Steau Bucharest 4-0 – you played 16 minutes of that final – what was it like?
“It was like heaven! The final was at Camp Nou crowded with Milan’s supporters”
In 1989/90 your campaign was halted by injuries but Milan retained the European cup with a 1-0 win against Benfica – this time you only featured for one minute of the final – how gutted were you about the injuries?
“I underwent two knee operations and I recovered for the final part of the season. To be part of the final in Wien was a big result”
In 1990/91 – Milan finished 2nd in the league and you had 20 league appearances under your belt – Sacchi took the Italy job and Capello returned the next season. Under him in 1991/92 Milan were unbeaten all season, storming to the league and finishing it off with an 8-2 win away at Foggia. How was the mood? Did you ever think you would lose?
“Our defensive organization reached an unbelievable consistency match after match. We were focused on the target : to be unbeaten as long as we could”
In 1992/93 – You made one single appearance all season, on the final day. How tough was it mentally?
“It was really tough but I never gave up. The commitment at the training session was always 100%”
In 1993/94 – You made sporadic appearances all season but Milan won the league for the third consecutive time conceding only 36 goals in 34 games – you virtually made the Italian football federation change the rules, enforcing 3 points for a win. Just how good was that defence?
“As I told you before, our defensive organization was almost perfect. Every single player was ready to challenge the opponents both individually and as a team”
Also that season you won a third European cup with a famous 4-0 victory over Johann Cruyff’s legendary Barcelona team – This time you started and played the full match- was this one just that little bit more special?
“We were underdogs because Baresi and Costacurta were disqualified but once again we played the perfect game with, among others, an outstanding Dejan Savicevic”
In 1994/95 – Paulo Di Canio came in, how was he in the dressing room? Milan finished fourth that season and Van Basten was cruelly forced to retire – what did everyone in the club make of this?
“Di Canio was an excellent skilful winger and he got along with all the teammates. When Marco retired it was a sad moment both for Ac Milan and the entire football world”
1995/96 – This was yet another season disrupted by injuries but Milan signed Weah and Baggio, and won the league again. How impressive were the pair?
“Baggio is football, I was so lucky to play alongside him at AC Milan and later on at Brescia Calcio. His room was next to mine in Milanello and when we were there, early in the morning I had to knock on the wall to stop him saying prayers to Buddha! King George was an unbelievable player and a great person very gentle to everyone”
In 1996/97 Capello left for Real Madrid and you left for Reggiana – how was it leaving Milan?
“It was very difficult but the decision came suddenly. My contract would have expired at the end of the season and I realized that the management would have not signed a new one. Reggiana, even if it was struggling almost on the bottom of the table, offered me a two year contract and so I accepted to move”
You were relegated that season – how did that feel?
“It was tough to take but I was aware when I signed that it would have been hard to avoid relegation”
In 1998/99 you joined Serie B side Brescia and in 1999/00 you gained promotion back to Serie A – that must have been a good feeling?
“Since I was relegated with Reggiana my aim was to be promoted to Serie A, play one more year and then retire. Brescia offered me this opportunity and I took it”
In 2000/01 you featured for Brescia who finished seventh in a successful season back in the top flight. Andrea Pirlo joined Brescia on loan for the second half of that season and was played deep in midfield for the first time. That season is remembered for Baggio and Pirlo’s combination for their goal away at Juventus – do you have any memories of Pirlo in the early days?
“For sure I have memories! Fantastic player. He seemed to do everything in an easy way, first touch, passing, dribbling and kicking free-kicks!”
In 2001/02, at 38, you joined Watford in England and became captain of the club managed by Gianluca Vialli. How was captaining a side? And how was playing in England?
“I’ve always loved the English football atmosphere. It was a dream come true. It was a disappointing season in terms of results but Vicarage Road is something special and I still support Watford”
After a season at Watford you left for Serie C2 club Pro Sesto and then retired aged 41. How would you sum up your career in one word?
From 2006-2008 you were assistant coach to Ancelotti, a former teammate, at Milan. How was this role? And how was revenge against Liverpool in 2006/07?
“I was assistant coach of Carlo alongside Mauro Tassotti just in 2008/09. AC Milan’s revenge against Liverpool is an important win in our Club history. Having said that, Liverpool is one of my favorite clubs in England and the only line up I can name by memory is the one who won the coppa dei Campioni in 1983/84 : Grobbelar-Neal-Kennedy-Lawrenson-Whelan-Hansen-Dalglish-Lee-Rush-Johnston-Sounesss.”
From 2009 to 2018 you were the head of Milan’s famous youth system. You saw such players as Darmian, Cutrone, Donnarumma, Locatelli, De Sciglio, and Cristante. How was this experience? What were your favourite memories here? Who was the most talented player you saw?
“Calabria is also on the list! All the players you mentioned are talented players but the most talented I’ve ever seen is Verdi born in 1992, currently at Napoli. To be the Academy Director was a great experience. Me and my two very close colleagues Zanoli (technical coordinator) and Gualtieri (Athletic coordinator) worked a lot on the human side in order to improve the knowledge and the skills of the people involved in the development of the players and therefore of the players themselves”
What is next for you in the future?
“I would like to work in a youth sector and put in place what I have experienced, of course, taking in account, the different contests. I am also interested in coaching or doing training for coaches”
I would like to thank Filippo Galli for his time and wish him all the best in future endeavours.