Sibling Rivalry – The Baresi Brothers: The Great & The Good

The two captains shook hands and handed each other their respective club’s pennants as the cacophony from the Curva Nord battled against the squalls from the red and black throng of the Curva Sud. The two men with the wry smiles were Giuseppe and Franco Baresi, brothers who represented two of Europe’s giants in arguably Italy’s biggest game.

The Derby della Madonnina in Milan is a rivalry named after the Virgin Mary statue that adorns the Duomo that sits in the ancient district of the northern metropolis. Five kilometres across the city in the San Siro quartiere lays the Giuseppe Meazza stadium, home to Calcio giants Internazionale and AC Milan. The ground was originally built for AC Milan in the 1920s; Inter arrived as tenants in 1947 and have remained ever since. The rivalry between the landlord and tenants have motivated and pushed each club. The success of the Helenio Herrera reign at Inter in the 1960s brought on the catenaccio era in Serie A and gave the Nerazzurri a team to stand up against the successful Swedish triumvirate of the Gre-No-Li Milan side from the decade before.

The Rossoneri had to wait until the 1990s to enjoy such success again. Following on from the groundwork laid by Arrigo Sacchi and again led by a trio of overseas signings, they won four Serie A titles during that decade. Under the guidance of Fabio Capello, the poise, power and finesse of Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten was underpinned by a stoic defence led by captain and club stalwart Franco Baresi. He spent his entire twenty-year career with AC Milan and his languid style regularly saw him named amongst the best defenders the game has ever seen.

During this time his elder brother Giuseppe sat in the opposite changing room, a holding midfielder who despite a more than respectable career would slip into the shadow of Franco thanks to a fateful decision made by the Inter top brass in the mid-70s.

The Baresi brothers hailed from a small parish in the province of Brescia, one hour away from Milan. Giuseppe joined Inter as a teenager and had become a big part of their Primavera side when his younger sibling arrived for a trial. Unconvinced by the size and stature of the 14-year-old, Franco was turned away by the club with a request for him to return the following year. A similar rebuttal from Atalanta led the younger Baresi to his beloved Milan. Encouraged by his coach Guido Settembrino, he was finally offered terms at his brother’s rivals after two successful trials.

By the time Franco was 16 and Giuseppe was 18 they had tragically lost both parents to illness. The brothers turned to football and poured their energies and grief into pursuing their dream of making it as professional footballers. Giuseppe’s debut came first, a 3-0 win over Venezia in the Coppa Italia. His versatility was a key attribute, equally as adept anchoring a midfield as he was in central defence or at either full back position.

The following season saw the elder Baresi given his Serie A debut by manager Eugenio Bersellini and so began a 16-year career with the Nerazzurri. He became an integral part of the squad, his hard-working tenacity a key ingredient in the battle of attrition Italian football was in the 1970s and 80s. Franco meanwhile had taken to the youth system and had rapidly become a star for the Primavera side.

Milan manager Niels Liedholm saw leadership, ability and composure beyond his years in the teenage Baresi, nicknamed ‘Piscinin‘, Milanese for ‘Little One’ by the club masseur on account of him being the smallest member of the squad. Liedholm placed faith in the youngster and named him as Milan’s first-choice libero. To the rest of Italian football, however, he was ‘Baresi Two’, Giuseppe had already represented Italy at under 21 level and was on the verge of a call-up to the national side.

Initially, the Baresi brothers traded success: Franco, alongside Fabio Capello and Gianni Rivera contributed to Milan’s tenth Scudetto in only his second season. Giuseppe’s Coppa Italia winners medal the year before led to a title win of his own the following season. Success was shortlived for the Rossoneri as they became embroiled in a match-fixing controversy. The Totonero scandal of 1980 saw two businessmen pay over 30 players across seven teams to throw matches. Both Milan and Lazio were relegated as punishment and future World Cup hero Paolo Rossi was banned for two years.

Despite the domestic issues, Italy geared itself up to host the European Championships that summer. The Baresis were both named in the squad, the only time this would happen in their careers. A commendable fourth place finish for the Azzurri was attained in a tournament remembered more for its crowd trouble, stifling defences and empty stadia than its football. Only Giuseppe got on the pitch, seeing limited action from the bench. However, he did start in the third-place playoff with Czechoslovakia, where he converted in the mammoth 9-8 penalty shootout defeat.

Milan’s time in Serie B lasted just one season, three defeats and a top place finish under Ilario Castagner led by the goals of Joe Jordan and Aldo Serena. Several long-serving players left the San Siro that season. Amongst others, Aldo Maldera, Walter Novellino and Roberto Antonelli all sought pastures new. The onus fell on the shoulders of Franco Baresi, who had grown into the libero role, modelled on his hero Rudi Krol with his untucked shirt and stony exterior. Aged 22, the Tifosi had a new hero and captain.

Despite the immediate return to Serie A, the struggle was not over; the loss of such experienced members of the squad came back to haunt the Rossoneri, a raft of loanees returned to their parent clubs and no sooner were the Milan giants back in the top flight then they were plunged back into a relegation battle. One lost on the pitch this time and not in the courts.

The World Cup of 1982 in Spain saw Enzo Bearzot name a strong squad. Franco was picked ahead of Giuseppe, who did not make the final 22. The victorious Italians secured their third title defeating West Germany in the final; a World Cup that included skullduggery from the Germans, a Kuwaiti Sheikh remonstrating with a referee, a French striker needing emergency dental work and arguably the greatest team never to win the tournament. The goals of a reinstated Paolo Rossi powered the Azzurri to glory, a medal for the youngest Baresi but no taste of the action.

Giuseppe would make his World Cup debut in the heat of Mexico four years later. The evergreen Bearzot employed him as a defensive midfielder, a position he strangely had in mind for Franco. A debate and disagreement over this resulted in the younger brother experiencing the spectacle on television at home. The tournament was the beginning of the end for Giuseppe though, given the task of man-marking Michel Platini in the last 16. The French captain scored inside the first 15 minutes and Baresi was given the hook at half time in a 2-0 defeat. The appointment of Azeglio Vicini signalled the end for Giuseppe and he was never picked for the Azzurri again.

A second relegation and promotion for Franco had changed him both as a player and person. Gone was the shy, retiring youngster who cowered away from the big characters of Gianni Rivera and Enrico Albertosi. He had grown into his role as a key figure for the Rossoneri and was made captain. His disappointment in missing the Mexico World Cup was short-lived, new manager Vicini brought him back into the side in his favoured libero role.

The arrival of Silvio Berlusconi as AC Milan owner in 1986 ushered in an era of unbridled success for the Rossoneri. Another Serie A title arrived in 1988 that was followed by a Supercoppa Italiana win and back to back European Cup victories. Franco was named Serie A footballer of the year in 1990 and played a huge part in Milan’s three straight Serie A wins, going undefeated in 58 matches and conceded a mere 15 goals in 1994.

Inter wrestled back a title of their own in 1989 and lesser success in Europe with a UEFA Cup win. Giuseppe having been handed the captain’s armband by Giovanni Trapattoni the year before. Italy was now the place to be for the world’s best footballers. Milan boasted the Dutch trio of Frank Rijkaard, Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten, while Inter responded by bringing in three Germans of their own – Lothar Matthaus, Andreas Brehme and latterly Jurgen Klinsmann to try and close the gap.

Despite the influx of foreign players into the Italian game, it would be another Giuseppe that would bring about the end of the elder Baresi’s career at the San Siro. The emergence of Giuseppe Bergomi in the heart of the Nerazzurri defence reduced Baresi’s playing time and by 1992 he sought pastures new and played out his career in the birthplace of the Panini sticker, Modena. The year that Giuseppe brought down the curtain on his career was also a huge year for Franco who headed to the USA to take part in his third World Cup.

A knee injury in a group game against Norway seemed to spell the end of his tournament. However, as Italy progressed the damaged meniscus was put to the back of his mind, as he crammed months-worth of rehab into three weeks to return in time for the final with Brazil.

The football Gods would not look down on Franco and reward him for the hard work endured to be fit for the biggest game in his career. The stifling Californian heat sucked the life out of the game as it meandered towards a penalty shootout. Franco, usually so assured from the spot, stepped up. He desperately tried to shake life into his weary legs, socks rolled down to his ankles, his long run ended as he leant back and sent Taffarel the wrong way. However, the ball sailed high over the bar and into the Pasadena skies. The same result from a Roberto Baggio penalty handed Brazil their fourth World Cup win.

An abiding memory for a lot of football fans when it comes to Franco Baresi is of this moment but for fans of AC Milan, it is his twenty trophies including six Scudetti and three European Cups. A darling of the Curva Nord who made over 700 appearances in the red and black stripes, he retired following the disastrous 1996/97 season. Giuseppe had more than a respectable career, he spent 16 years with Inter and won two titles.

Like the two clubs that they played for, there is a mutual respect between the brothers yet also a massive rivalry. The brothers would cut off all contact between them when the Derby Della Madonnina was on the horizon. It was Franco who was known as ‘Baresi Two’ when he first came onto the scene but when all was said and done it was Giuseppe who was remembered as ‘The Other Baresi’. A harsh title for someone who’d had a career that would be the envy of a lot of players, he just so happened to be the brother of one of the game’s greatest defenders.


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