AC Milan

The capital of the Lombardy region, Milan has grown used to celebrating the exploits of its two biggest footballing institutions, AC Milan, and current Italian champions Inter Milan, founded after a split from their city rivals. Following its creation in the final days of the 19th century, AC Milan had to wait some 50 years before breaking into the top tier of European football, where it has remained ever since.

A working class club in its beginnings, AC Milan has attracted supporters from further up the social scale over the years without relinquishing its famed hunger for silverware. Its Milanello training complex near Varese is one of the best-equipped centres on the continent, although the Rossoneri continue share the Giuseppe Meazza Stadium (known throughout the world as the San Siro) with their city neighbours.

Foreign stars have played a pivotal part in AC Milan's glorious history, none more so that the famous Swedish trio of Gren, Nordahl and Liedholm, affectionately dubbed GRE-NO-LI, the Brazilian Jose Altafini and the Uruguayan Juan Schiaffino, all of whom were vital to the club's successes of the 1950s.

Milan's achievements over the years would not have been possible, however, without crucial contributions from a host of strong-minded homegrown tacticians. The club has long attracted Italian football's shrewdest minds and men of the calibre of Nereo Rocco, Arrigo Sacchi, Cesare Maldini, Alberto Zaccheroni, Giovanni Trapattoni, Fabio Capello and Carlo Ancelotti, all of whom have instilled their charges with tactical discipline and an unyielding commitment to the club's distinctive colours.

It is no surprise, therefore, that three of the greatest Italian players of all time have strong links with the club. The first of them, Gianni Rivera, made his mark on calcio thanks to his elegance, technical ability and extraordinary vision. The number ten's distinguished playing career with the Milan giants spanned 19 long years, during which time he scored 128 goals in 501 official matches.

The second member of this esteemed trio is the inimitable Franco Baresi, in honour of whom Milan withdrew the number six shirt in July 1997. "There's nothing that would have ever made me consider leaving Milan for another club. After all, I was playing for the best team in the world," commented the smiling Baresi in reference to his 713 official appearances in the famous red and black jersey. After hanging his boots up, the thoroughbred defender was made a vice-president and entrusted with the running of the youth teams.

The third and final Milanese divinity is none other than Paolo Maldini, every Italian woman's ideal son-in-law and a defender as graceful as Rivera in his prime and as reliable as Baresi. The son of fellow Milan legend Cesare, the durable 38-year-old continues to lift UEFA Champions League trophies with elan, commenting after May's victory over Liverpool, some 23 years on from his Serie A debut, " It's feels as if it's the first time."

Having harvested 17 domestic championships and embarked on countless European and intercontinental campaigns, the history of AC Milan is inextricably linked, therefore, to the staggering feats and sheer charisma of some of Italian football's greatest icons.

Alone against the British challenge
After beginning their quest for a seventh European title in the qualifying rounds, the Italian aristocrats had to battle long and hard to achieve their goal. The club's first task was to bring their FIFA World Cup™ winning stars back down to earth in time for the challenge of Red Star Belgrade in August. A 3-1 aggregate win took them into the group stage where they were drawn against AEK Athens, Lille and Anderlecht. Although far from impressive, a record of three wins, one draw and two defeats was enough to see them through to the knockout rounds.

Celtic proved a tough nut to crack in the last 16, but Carlo Ancelotti's men never looked back after scraping through 1-0 on aggregate after extra-time. Their quarter-final opponents Bayern Munich thought they had done the hard work after grabbing a seemingly crucial 2-2 draw in Milan, only for the Italians to cruise to a 2-0 win in the return leg at the Allianz Arena.

The only non-Premiership side in the last four, AC Milan's next mission involved halting a Manchester United side buoyed by their 7-1 demolition of AS Roma. Brazilian wizard Kaka rocked the Old Trafford powerhouses with a fine brace in the away leg, and although the Englishmen took a narrow 3-2 lead with them to Italy, the competition's leading scorer Kaka was once again on hand with his tenth European goal of the season to inspire Ancelotti's side to a comfortable 3-0 triumph.

The final pitted the Italians against Liverpool, the side who came back from the dead to deny them in the 2005 final. Keen to avoid a repeat, Ancelotti named instinctive sharpshooter Filippo Inzaghi in his starting line-up, and the veteran repaid his faith by firing his side into a 2-0 lead that was ably defended by Europe's most experienced backline. Although the Reds pulled a goal back, the ageless Paolo Maldini stepped up to collect the trophy for a staggering fifth time, a feat that will be difficult to match.

One Brazilian genius follows another
It was no surprise when midfield sensation Kaka was named player of the tournament after his Champions League scoring feats, succeeding last year's star turn and compatriot Ronaldinho.

The elegant midfielder was on hand for his side whenever they needed him, shooting the all-important winner against Celtic, and slotting home a late penalty in the first leg against Bayern. He was never more decisive, however, than at Old Trafford, providing a virtuoso performance capped by two sublime goals, the first the result of a stunning burst into the box, and the second coming after he had bamboozled three United defenders with a delicious solo run. In the return leg a week later he was at it again, opening the scoring with a low angled drive, his tenth of the competition, giving him a remarkable average of 0.79 goals per game.

Not content with that, he also had a hand in both of Pippo Inzaghi's strikes in Athens, confirming yet again his position as one of the world's most exceptional talents.

Ancelotti kicks the smoking habit
A two-time winner of the European Champion Clubs' Cup in his playing career, this season's Champions League win was Carlo Ancelotti's second as a coach, both of them with his beloved Milan. "I managed to achieve what I've done here because I feel at home at Milan," he explained. I've worn the jersey as a player and I've won all the major trophies in the club's colours. My relationship with Milan and my feelings towards the club are very strong."

As strange as it may seem now, Ancelotti was under scrutiny early on in the season as his side made a stuttering start. "I never felt under threat," he commented. "I always managed to stay calm despite the problems."

His decision to switch Kaka to a more advanced position just behind a lone striker proved a masterstroke. What is more, Ancelotti showed his gift for getting the most out of his players and for making the right choices at crucial times, such as his last-minute decision to start with Inzaghi instead of Alberto Gilardino in the final.

Ancelotti's biggest challenge, however, is fulfilling the promise he made to quit smoking should Milan lift the European crown. "It's going to be tough, but I'll get there," he vowed.

A brief history
Milan Cricket and Football Club was founded on 16 December 1899 by two Englishmen, Herbert Kilpin and Alfred Edwards, the latter a British vice-consul in Milan and a well-known figure on the city's social scene. Edwards was appointed the first president of the club, which comprised both a cricket and a football section.

After joining the Italian Football Federation the following year, the new boys won their first national championship in 1901 followed by two further titles in the next six years. In 1908, however, the club was riven by internal discord, with a faction unhappy at English domination of the club deciding to set up their own team, Football Club Internazionale Milano (Inter Milan). The breakaway severely weakened AC Milan for many years to come and it was not until 1951 that they landed their fourth league championship.

In 1938 the fascist regime ordered all the country's teams to adopt Italian names, and so Associazione Calcio Milano (AC Milan) was born.

The club's first glory years came in the 1950s when the legendary Swedish striking trio of Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedholm (aka GRE-NO-LI) teamed up with Uruguayan forward Juan Alberto Schiaffino to bring them four league titles.

In the 1960s and 70s the Rossoneri assumed their place in the upper echelons of world football under the guidance of master strategist Nereo Rocco, who had the good fortune to call upon a first-class squad containing the likes of golden boy Gianni Rivera, Jose Altafini, Cesare Maldini and Giovanni Trapattoni.

After assuming the presidency on 20 February 1986, Silvio Berlusconi ushered in a new era of riches as Milan assembled an outrageously gifted team boasting the talents of skipper Franco Baresi, a youthful Paolo Maldini, Mauro Tassotti, Alessandro Costacurta, Roberto Donadoni (the current Italy coach), Carlo Ancelotti, and a three-pronged forward line of Pietro Paolo Virdis, Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit. The man who would convert this heady blend into one of Europe's finest ever sides was the relatively unknown Arrigo Sacchi.

In the 1990s and beyond, Fabio Capello and latterly Ancelotti would maintain AC Milan's status as a European superpower. As the Italians' two recent appearances in the Champions League final show, it is a position they are not about to relinquish.