Tuesday March 19 2019
Happy birthday, Alessandro Nesta

Today is the 43rd birthday of former Lazio, Milan and Italy defender Alessandro Nesta, one of the greatest defenders of all time.

Born in Rome on March 19 1976, the young Nesta joined the youth ranks of his boyhood team, Lazio, aged nine.

The young defender make his debut in March of 1994, but his early career with the Biancocelesti was more notable for an unfortunate training ground incident.

Training with the first team, the centre-back went in for a challenge with the Aquile’s star man, English midfielder Paul Gascoigne.

Though all parties confirmed there was no malice from either side, Gascoigne suffered a broken leg, and departed for Rangers at the end of the season.

Fortunately for Nesta, his performances on the pitch meant that the fans quickly forgave that incident, and he assumed the captaincy in 1997.

That saw him lift the Coppa Italia in 1998, with Lazio on the losing side against Inter in the UEFA Cup final that same year.

An injury suffered at that summer’s World Cup meant Nesta missed much of the 1998-99 season - though he did lift the Cup Winners' Cup - but he was back to his best for the following campaign.

Coached by Sven-Goran Eriksson, the Biancocelesti won the Scudetto for only the second time in their history, pipping Juventus by one point on the final day.

Nesta would lift the double that year, as Lazio also triumphed in the Coppa Italia final, beating Inter over two legs.

Just two years later though, Lazio’s financial problems saw them forced to sell Nesta, who left the team he had always supported to join Milan.

“I could have put my foot down and stayed, but nobody had been paid for a year and seven months,” Nesta explained to Radio Sei in 2016.

“I realised there was a danger of bankruptcy. On the last day of the transfer window I had to go to Milan.”

Even if he hadn’t wanted to leave Lazio, Nesta soon made himself at home in the Rossoneri rearguard alongside the likes of Jaap Stam, Paolo Maldini and Cafu.

His first season brought a Champions League triumph over Juventus, with Nesta scoring in the penalty shoot-out after a 0-0 draw, and another Coppa Italia.

Then, in the 2003-04 season, the Diavolo won the Scudetto under Carlo Ancelotti, with the Italian international a key part of a backline which conceded only 24 goals all season.

Despite a shock defeat to Liverpool in the 2004-05 Champions League final - a game in which Milan had been 3-0 up - Nesta was still regarded as one of the world’s finest centre-backs.

He made 30 Serie A appearances in the 2005-06 season as the Rossoneri narrowly missed out on the Scudetto to Juventus, though Milan would later be demoted to third for their part in the Calciopoli scandal, as Juve were sent to Serie B.

On the international stage, injury had often kept Nesta out of some of Italy’s biggest games, and the 2006 World Cup would prove to be a continuation of that curse.

After playing all three group games, Nesta picked up an injury against the Czech Republic and missed the rest of the tournament.

The Azzurri went on to lift the trophy, but it was Marco Materazzi who partnered Fabio Cannavaro on the road to Berlin.

Nesta would play just one more competitive game for Italy, as injuries began to seriously affect him.

He managed just 14 Serie A appearances in the 2006-07 season, but partnered Paolo Maldini in the centre of defence as Milan took their revenge on Liverpool in that year’s Champions League final.

From then on Nesta’s body began to let him down more and more often, with the defender playing 29 league matches in 2007-08, but just one the season after.

When he did get on the pitch though he was still as classy as ever, helping Milan to the Scudetto in 2011.

The following season, the veteran showed he had lost none of his ability, with a stunning tackle to deny Barcelona’s Lionel Messi what appeared a certain goal in the Champions League.

Leaving Milan in the summer of 2012, Nesta wound down his career with MLS side Montreal Impact and Chennaiyin of the Indian Super League.

Nesta has since moved in to coaching, leaving Miami FC in November 2017 before taking the reins at Serie B side Perugia in May of last year.

Elegant, intelligent and good on the ball, he is still revered as one of Italy’s all-time greatest defenders.

Nesta won three Scudetti, two Champions Leagues and two Coppe Italia at club level, despite only twice managing to play 30 games in a league season.

At international level too he made his contribution to the 2006 World Cup triumph, but would surely have had more than his 78 caps were it not for the injuries which blighted his career.