Greatest defensive back-four in football history

The Fab four

The game of football has seen several great defenders in its wealthy history. Players like Paolo Maldini, Franz Beckenbauer, Gaetano Scirea, Franco Baresi, Bobby Moore, Alessandro Nesta, Carles Puyol and many more have blessed millions of eyes while excelling at attributes like positioning, reading of the game, tackling ability, confidence, toughness and dominating leadership.

Looking back into the history, one could make the point that the quality of defense has gone down making way for more offensive minded football.

One back-four in particular is unforgettable and was central to the success and name of AC Milan. It will arguably go down as the greatest back-four in football history: Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Costacurta, Franco Baresi and Mauro Tassotti.


Situation in the 80s

Milan’s reputation was hit after getting relegated to the Serie B in the early 80’s. The first due to the infamous Totonero match-fixing scandal and the second due to a poor league showing right after being promoted two years later.

This was a rough patch for the club and could have turned out to be worse as is the case with many clubs after relegation. This was not the case though as the end of that decade saw a reversal of fortunes with Milan going on a historic stretch for almost 20 years starting with the Scudetto in 1988 to winning the Champions League in 2007.

There were a lot of key pieces responsible for their success in the stretch, but none more than their defense. Milan had a constant back-four from 1986-1997, very crucial to Milan’s dominance:

LB: Paolo Maldini (#3 – jersey retired)

CB: Alessandro Costacurta

CB: Franco Baresi (#6 – jersey retired)

RB: Mauro Tassotti         

These four are legends for the club accumulating a total of 2867 appearances. Baresi was Milan’s player of the century (1999), Maldini won several individual accolades (Player of the Year, Defender of the Year, All-time XI nominations, Hall of Fame nomination, etc.), and Tassotti and Costacurta are inductees of the A.C. Milan Hall of Fame.

The defensive line was unique in breaking up plays and converting defense to offense with quick transitions. It was not only successful in terms of individual accolades though as personal achievements translated to a load of trophies.

The back-four won a total of 17 trophies together which included five Scudetti, three European Cups (now Champions League), four Supercoppa Italaiana, three UEFA Super Cups and two Intercontinental Cups.

During this period, they went on a 58 game unbeaten stretch from 1991 – 1993 and were unbeaten in the 1992 season conceding just 21 goals in that season, showing exceptional grit and fight.

Very few teams have had such a dominant stretch as this in the history of the sport. This was back when the league was very strong too with likes of Napoli, Fiorentina and Sampdoria boasting top quality squads with players like Maradona, Batistuta and Vialli.

The offense is always credited majorly for a team’s success, but this defense is majorly credited for the success of the team. These Rossoneri highlighted how “Defense wins championships”. We may never again see a back-four like this again!

Edited by Abhinav Munshi
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