When Franco Baresi hung up his boots in 1997, and Milan retired his No6 jersey, few thought they would see a central defender of his quality in a Rossoneri shirt again.
Baresi was one of the best-ever Italian liberos and led Milan to many successes at home and abroad in his 20 years at the San Siro. But when Alessandro Nesta joined Milan from S.S. Lazio in summer 2002, few doubted that Milan had finally found the man to replace Baresi.
It took under a year for the former Lazio captain to prove that Milan were right to pay €30m to snatch him from the club he had been with since the age of nine. The elegant defender won the UEFA Champions League and the Coppa Italia in his first season in Italy's fashion capital, forming an oustanding defensive partnership with the legendary Paolo Maldini.
Now Nesta is seeking to win his second major European trophy with the Rossoneri as Carlo Ancelotti's side face FC Porto on Friday in the UEFA Super Cup in Monaco. "We are working hard to prepare for this match," Nesta told uefa.com. "Until now we haven't been at our peak physical condition but we are aiming to be at our best for the match against Porto. We just have to be patient but I'm sure we will see the real Milan in Monaco.
"I'm optimistic about the Porto match. They are a good team with several good players, especially Deco, but I think we can win this trophy," continued the defender, who lifted the Super Cup with Lazio in 1999 after a 1-0 defeat of Manchester United FC.
After catching the eye in Milan's triumphant Champions League campaign, Nesta has been nominated as best defender for the UEFA Football Awards 2003 together with team-mate Maldini. "I'm really happy about the nomination. It shows once again that we had a great season," said Nesta, who was also voted into the uefa.com readers' 2002 team of the year.
Milan's pre-season has included defeats by Juventus FC in the Italian Super Cup - on penalties - and the Luigi Berlusconi trophy. But Nesta is not worried. "We have everything we need to win again this season," he said. "We haven't changed much during the summer and this group have proved their winning mentality by lifting the Champions League and the Coppa Italia. We know it will be even more difficult to repeat the successes we achieved last season, but we are ready."
Nor is Nesta too concerned about the competition Milan will face for their European crown. "In the Champions League we will have several difficult opponents like Real Madrid [CF], Manchester United [FC] and the other Italian teams but we are the champions and we are among the favourites again," he said.
What is certain is that, with Maldini struggling to be fit after an ankle injury, Carlo Ancelotti will want another strong display from Nesta to stop the Porto charge and secure the fourth Super Cup in Milan's history.
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