Monday, August 15, 2022

Franco Baresi takes a trip down memory lane to celebrate AC Milan’s all-white kit inspired by seven UCL titles

AC Milan and Puma partnered up on Friday to unveil the new away kit to be worn in the 2022-23 season, inspired by the Rossoneri’s seven Champions League titles. Inspired by the 1984-85 season, the kit will be worn by the men’s, women’s and youth teams in their respective competitions. 

CBS Sports sat down with AC Milan honorary vice-president Franco Baresi, who has fond memories as the Rossoneri captain in that 1984-85 season. Baresi took a trip down memory lane and talked about a number to topics, including the evolution of the sport and his take on this current Milan squad.

“I remember very well that season,” Baresi told CBS Sports, “when Nils Liedholm came back after five years. It was a moment of change in the game, in our way of thinking. We started to play zone defense, it became our fortune. We were the first ones to do it in Serie A soccer, there was a lot of excitement.”  

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Liedholm is arguably one of the greatest coaches of the 20th century, and one Baresi described as a “leader” for trusting on the young players so much. At the time, Liedholm gave a 16-year-old defender by the name of Paolo Maldini his debut minutes as a senior player in January of 1985, “another intuition of Liedholm,” according to Baresi.

“Maldini demonstrated immediately that he had qualities,” Baresi said. “He played the second half of the match against Udinese on … [and went on to] become one of the greatest players of our club.”

Much has changed since the ’80s and Baresi acknowledges that “today the role of the defender evolved” for the betterment of the game.

“Today the defenders play the ball from behind, they start the offensive action. It improved the quality of the game in general,” Baresi said. “Fikayo Tomori? He surprised everyone. When he arrived, he immediately showed who he was. He was very good to impose himself with his personality in our club and also showed how good he is in the one vs. one with the strikers. He’s one of the strengths of the roster.”

Sandro Tonali, another key cog of the roster, along with Rafael Leao and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were all praised by Baresi for their championship run last season, ending an 11-year Scudetto drought.

“I think Sandro is a very humble young player,” Baresi said. “Maybe he had some issues at the beginning, but then he worked hard and now he has the right spirit and embraces the values of the club. With his style of playing but also for his attitude off the pitch, he played an incredible season. I think he can become a point of reference for the future. It is always nice to see a club like AC Milan include young Italian players in the roster. They carry a positive example for the others, they know the values of the club, also for the fans it’s nice to support these players.

“Rafael Leao developed a lot and improved. In the past season, he showed more continuity on the pitch. Everyone knows his qualities and he proved it, but I also think he can do even more, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic (who extended his contract with the club on Monday) is crucial not only when he plays but also when he doesn’t play because he conveys confidence and courage to the whole dressing room. Even if he’s not that young anymore, if he plays, he can do something good for the whole group.”

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Speaking about the coach, AC Milan legend Franco Baresi reflects that Stefano Pioli, who joined the club from Fiorentina back in 2019, “was very important in bringing the dressing room together in the most difficult times, especially during the pandemic.” Pioli has registered a 56.62 win percentage and a +102 goal differential over his first three seasons at the helm, which culminated with a championship at the end of this season. Those are his best career numbers managing any team in Serie A. It may have taken some time, but Pioli finally managed to lead Milan to the mountaintop. They’ll now get play in the Champions League for the second straight season as they seek to get past the group stage for the first time since 2014. You can stream every Milan match on Paramount+.

“I think he has something of Carlo Ancelotti for his calmness and also for the relationships with his players,” Baresi said. “We come from a great season after we won the Scudetto, we will be back playing Champions League soccer with more confidence and our target is to improve the performances outside Italy. 

“This year, there is a World Cup in the middle of the season — we need to be prepared for that, for the players who will play the competition but also for those who will stay here and train.”

One of the greatest sweepers/central defenders of our generation, Baresi is well aware of the growing interest in soccer in the United States having represented Italy as they reached the final of the 1994 FIFA World Cup at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. They ultimately came up short, losing to Brazil in a penalty-kick shootout that involved a missed attempt by Baresi. Despite the tough result, he still has fond memories from that tournament.

“We played the final, even if I missed the penalty, it’s a positive memory for me,” Baresi said. “The soccer industry in the United States is growing a lot while the AC Milan’s brand is always famous around the world — for the brand and for the history of the club. Also, I see there are a lot of Italian players who now go to play in the MLS. It’s a good sign.”

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AC Milan chief revenue officer Casper Stylsvig and Marco Mueller, Puma senior head of product line management teamsport apparel, gave us a behind-the-scenes look on the process behind the new kit, which pays tribute to the past success of the club while also pointing ahead toward what is to come for the club after winning the Italian title.

“AC Milan is a club that always looks to future, whilst never forgetting its tradition and heritage. That is why we are particularly proud to unveil the new jersey today, which mixes AC Milan’s great past with its innovative spirit and elegant style, hence creating a unique product that we are sure will resonate well with our over 500 million fans across the globe,” Stylsvig said. “It is a jersey rich in symbolism, with the white kit being an iconic part of who we are and the seven stripes representing the club’s incredible success in Europe.”  

Bringing back the all-white look for Milan seemed to be a no-brainer for Mueller, who called it “an iconic look for AC Milan away kits that has been a staple of recent trophies winning seasons.” 

“AC Milan is steeped in history, so we looked to the 1984-85 season away kit as an inspiration. We wanted to bring a fresh energy to that kit and celebrate iconic all-white kits of the past,” Mueller said.

The new away kit embraces the strategic direction undertaken by AC Milan and Puma, with the two entities utilizing the style, fashion and culture of Milan to develop performance and off-pitch fashionable products that tap into the unique Milanese style. A direction that transpires from the official photoshoot of the campaign, which features local Milanese talents and players from the AC Milan men’s and women’s teams as part of a stylish and elegant ensemble. 

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The new jersey arrives in two iterations. The authentic jersey features ULTRAWEAVE performance fabric and dryCELL sweat-wicking technology, making the jersey the lightest and most comfortable PUMA has ever made. The replica version is made with 100% recycled polyester and equipped with dryCELL sweat-wicking technology to keep you dry and comfortable throughout the 90 minutes and beyond — no matter the time, pitch or place. Both the authentic and replica jerseys are made with 100% recycled materials, excluding the trims and decorations as a step toward a better future. 

The 2022-23 AC Milan away kit available from July 28 at Puma stores, Puma.com, the AC Milan store at the AC Milan Stadium, acmilan.com/shop and at select retailers worldwide. The new all-white kit will make its debut on Saturday, July 23, when the men’s team take on Zalaegerszegi TE in Zalaegerszeg, Hungary. 

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