One of the most intriguing aspects of the UEFA Champions League quarter-final between AC Milan and FC Internazionale Milano is the number of players who have featured for both sides.
The situation is certainly unusual in football, but historically the links between the Milan clubs have been closer than those between most other local rivals across Europe. Indeed, the ground the two teams share, the Stadio Giuseppe Meazza, is named after the top scorer in local derbies; Meazza scored 19 times for Inter and once for Milan.
Both clubs signed players last summer who had represented their neighbours, although Hernán Crespo and Edgar Davids have since had varying degrees of success. Crespo, who registered nine Champions League goals for Inter in 2002/03 before joining Chelsea FC for €24.25m, is on a season-long loan at Milan and has proved a valuable asset, scoring winners in both legs against Manchester United FC in the Round of 16.
Davids, meanwhile, arrived at Inter after leaving Juventus FC last summer, but has struggled to force his way into Roberto Mancini's lineup. Despite a glittering career - which includes one term at Milan in 1996/97 – the Dutch international has made only seven Serie A starts and appeared just four times in the Champions League.
The last direct transfer between these sides occurred in summer 2002, with Clarence Seedorf switching from Inter and Italian international Francesco Coco heading in the opposite direction. While Seedorf had enjoyed three successful seasons with Inter, Coco had struggled to establish himself at Milan and spent most of 2001/02 on loan at FC Barcelona.
Both men adapted well to their not-so-unfamiliar surroundings, but it was Seedorf who claimed European club football's ultimate prize at the end of his first Rossoneri campaign. Despite missing a penalty in the final shoot-out against Juventus FC, the Dutchman became the first player to claim three European Champion Clubs' Cups with as many different teams.
Coco, though, has suffered a succession of injury problems, making only three league starts last term while a serious back problem delayed his contribution to the current campaign. He finally appeared against Parma FC on 6 February 2005, his first Serie A game since November 2003.
Pirlo in form
Perhaps the player who has gained most from changing allegiances is Andrea Pirlo, who had found his first-team chances limited at Inter. Since joining Milan in 2001, he has been transformed into a deep-lying playmaker, making his debut for Italy in November 2002 and becoming a key figure for club and country. Indeed, he scored both Azzurri goals in their recent FIFA World Cup qualifying victory against Scotland.
One of Pirlo's understudies is Cristian Brocchi, who despite some creditable displays has struggled to establish himself in the Milan side having previously had the same problem at Inter. Croatian defender Dario Šimic is another who has been unable to win a regular role with either team. Having impressed in his first Italian campaign in 1998/99, Šimic subsequently struggled to win a regular starting role at Inter before moving to Milan in 2002. Again he shone at first but, after 29 league appearances in 2002/03, has barely figured.
Nerazzurri No1 Francesco Toldo started out with Milan, but left without playing. However, having gone on to establish himself as one of the world's best goalkeepers, Toldo's Milan links will give him an added incentive tonight in a match where familiarity does not make the rivalry any less intense.
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