Crossing the Milan divide
© Getty Images

The derby della Madonnina, which sees league leaders AC Milan lock horns with city rivals Inter for the 276th time this weekend, remains one of Serie A’s classic fixtures.

Giuseppe Meazza, arguably the greatest footballer in the history of the Italian game, after whom the clubs’ stadium in the district of San Siro was officially renamed in 1980, enjoyed the unusual distinction of representing both Milan giants in derby games during his career. While the appearance of this former Inter superstar in Rossoneri colours caused considerable controversy back in 1941, nowadays fans on both sides are a little more accustomed to their erstwhile heroes crossing one of football’s great divides.

Milan-born, and signed by I Nerazzurri at the age of 14, Meazza would go on to win two successive FIFA World Cups™ with Italy, rack up 50 goals in 62 domestic matches between 1927 and 1929, followed by another 195 in 286 appearances during the pre-war Ambrosiana-Inter period, and become a talisman and veritable legend for his all-conquering club.

After suffering from blood circulation problems in his feet, he was omitted from the team for the entire 1939/40 season. Angered by this apparent slight, he moved to eternal foes AC Milan and in February 1941 scored the equaliser in a 2-2 draw with his previous employers in an intense derby clash.

This perceived act of betrayal would eventually be forgiven by the Inter faithful, however, because after two years at AC Milan, and spells with Juventus, Varese and Atalanta, Meazza returned to the club where he had made his name, principally to coach the youth team. In a symbolic transfer of power, he aided in the development of a young Sandro Mazzola, destined to later join the ranks of Inter Milan greats.

Before Meazza’s time, the Cevenini brothers had also lit up many Milan derbies. The one that took place on 19 December 1920 was particularly memorable since all five siblings – Aldo, Carlo, Cesare, Luigi and Mario – played a part in the game.

Goalkeeper Giorgio Ghezzi, nicknamed ‘Kamikaze’, took part in no fewer than 11 local showdowns while defending the goal of Inter, with whom he secured two Italian championships. He swapped blue stripes for red in 1959, going on to win a further league title plus a European Cup with his new side, as well as play in eight additional derbies, the last of which ended in a 1-1 draw in March 1964.

Before forging a successful career as a coach, Nevio Scala spent three years as a player at AC Milan, without ever getting a taste of the fabled derby. However, during two seasons at Inter, from 1973 to 1975, the tough-tackling midfielder would experience the raucous rivalry seven times in a combination of league and cup matches. To complete the circle, he promptly returned to serve the Rossoneri cause the following campaign.

Of all the players to have worn the jersey of both teams, it is generally agreed that Christian Vieri was subject to the most vociferous reaction from his former admirers. A prolific yet nomadic striker, with 15 professional clubs to his name, Vieri scored a remarkable 103 goals in 144 appearances for Inter between 1999 and 2005.

When he stepped out on to the pitch in the colours of their arch-rivals prior to the first derby of 2005/06 season , he was met by a cacophony of boos and whistles inside the San Siro. Despite his best efforts, Bobo was unable to produce the goal that would doubtless have silenced the Nerazzurri support.

The career of another front man, Aldo Serena, one of only five Italian players to have won the league with three different clubs, was distinct in that not only did he twice make the move between the Lombard behemoths, but his second cross-town transfer came a full decade after the first.

A couple of years after Serena’s retirement, striker Maurizio Ganz joined Inter and established a fearsome reputation for himself as a predatory goalscorer, before going on to repeat the feat for I Rossoneri.

Since he only played a part in 22 matches, without ever finding the net, it is easy to forget that Andrea Pirlo’s first spell in the Lombard capital was actually with Inter. Ten years down the line, and 277 AC Milan appearances later, the inventive playmaker is idolised by fans of the red-and-blacks. Roberto Baggio, whose glory days primarily came in the colours of Juventus, took things even further by winning over both sets of fans in two separate two-year stints in Milan.

Many foreign players have represented both outfits, and some have played crucial roles in derby matches. Argentinian front man Hernan Crespo headed the winner for Inter in a famous 4-3 victory over their old foes in October 2006, while Danish defender Thomas Helveg was part of the AC Milan starting XI that demolished their hapless neighbours 6-0 in May 2001.

Clarence Seedorf, who is likely to be involved in this Sunday’s encounter, had already amassed a significant medal haul before arriving at Inter Milan in 1999. Previous successes did not prevent the Dutchman from giving his all for his new club, playing 64 times and scoring eight goals, one of which capped off a precious 3-2 derby triumph in January 2000. The attacking midfielder then crossed the divide in 2002 and has since become one of the Rossoneri's leading lights, clocking up 260 appearances and notching 41 goals, including an astounding long-range winner against Inter in 2004.

Ronaldo was another player to leave a lasting imprint on this world-famous fixture. After hitting the net 49 times in 68 matches for Inter, the powerful striker left for Real Madrid with his head held high and his reputation bolstered. Five years later in 2007, following the Brazilian’s derby goal for AC Milan and ensuing celebration, the reaction he received from his former fans was a little less adulatory.

Whether or not the same sort of welcome awaits Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who played a starring role in Inter’s recent revival but returns to the San Siro this weekend in an AC Milan strip, remains to be seen.