Lionel Messi has answered the question everybody wanted to know – could he do it on a cold November night in Stoke? According to the man himself, yes he could!
It’s been a remarkable career for the Argentinian. Just last week, he collected his fifth Ballon d’Or trophy; an all-time record.
It’s hard to remember the last time neither Messi, or his biggest rival Ronaldo, collected the award for the best player on the planet.
In fact, you have to go as far back as 2007! A whole nine years. The winner that year was a Brazilian playmaker by the name of Kaka.
At the tip of the AC Milan diamond, Kaka led the way with ten Champions League goals in the 2006/2007 season. His goals and assists helped the club win their seventh and final European title.
With that in mind, we thought it might be a nice idea to take a look back at the dominant AC Milan side of the 2006/2007 season and ask; where are they now?
Then: World Cup winning Brazilian international, Dida, had been at the club since 2000. Within a few years, Dida had solidified his position as the number one for both club and country. Many regarded him as one of the most talented keepers in the world. However, Dida was capable of the odd blunder every now and again. The 2006/2007 season would prove to be a turning point in his career. Injuries and poor form limited Dida to only 13 league games.
Now: Dida is 42 years old and, as of a few months ago, is retired. After struggling to regain his place back in the AC Milan starting XI, Dida left the club in 2010 and, a whole two years later, signed for Portuguesa. Impressive performances for the club saw Dida get a move to Gremio in 2012. He signed for Internacional in 2014 and remained as the club’s number one until his departure in 2015.
Then: The former Roma legend, Cafu, had joined Milan in the summer of 2003. No-one epitomised the modern day full-back more than the “express train”, Cafu. The Brazilian work horse had been, for many years, a crucial outlet for both Roma and Brazil. His tireless energy and pace on the wings allowed Roma to employ their rather obscure 3-5-2 formation. Some would argue that the evolution of the modern day full-back can in some way be attributed to the emergence of Cafu in the 1990s.
Now: After an iconic spell with Milan, Cafu retired from professional football in 2008. He was soon named as one of 11 members in the Roma “Hall of Fame”. In 2004, Cafu was named by Pele as one of the greatest living players in the world. He currently works in the media and in an ambassadorial for the Brazilian national team. In the midst of Brazil’s humiliation in the 2014 World Cup, Cafu sensationally claimed he was ejected from the side’s dressing room despite his experience and standing. He recently took part in David Beckham’s game for UNICEF, alongside the likes of Figo and Ronaldinho.
Centre-Back: Alessandro Nesta
Then: Nesta was, in many minds, the finest centre-back in world football. The four-time Serie A “defender of the year” had joined AC Milan in 2003 for a fee close to €30 million. Despite missing most of the 2006/2007 season with a shoulder injury, Nesta returned to help his side defeat Liverpool in the final of the Champions League.
Now: In the summer of 2015, Nesta was named head coach of newly-formed American franchise, Miami FC. Nesta was, and still is, an icon at AC Milan. Since leaving the club in 2012, Nesta has played in the American MLS with Montreal Impact. Following a two-year spell with the club, Nesta joined Marco Materazzi’s Chennaiyin FC in the Indian Super League and finished his playing career there.
Centre-Back: Paolo Maldini
Then: Widely regarded as the ultimate Milan footballer, Maldini had done it all at the club. The Milan captain had been playing professionally for AC Milan for over 20 years! Like fellow experienced team-mate, Costacurta, Maldini’s versatility meant he could play anywhere across the backline.
Now: After a record 902 appearances for Milan, Maldini retired from the game in 2009. In 2012, he was inducted into the Italian Football Hall of Fame. It is thought Maldini would like to get into coaching at some point in the future, even though he turned down a role at Chelsea with former team-mate, Carlo Ancelotti. In 2015, he teamed up with Italian business man, Riccardo Silva, to launch a football franchise in Miami. He side play in the North American Soccer League. His son, Christian Maldini, is said to be a promising prospect in the Milan youth set up.
Left-Back: Marek Jankulovski
Then: Jankulovski was one of Milan’s most consistent performers in the 2006/2007 season. His 50 appearances for the club saw him named Czech footballer of the year. The former Udinese full-back was renowned for his long-range pile-drivers and overall technique.
Now: Since retiring in 2012, Jankulovski has removed himself from the footballing limelight. He remained at AC Milan until 2011 and, because of injury concerns, could not fully play out his final season back in his native Czech Republic with club side, FC Baník Ostrava. His 77 caps all but confirm his standing as one of the finest Czech players in world football.
Defensive Midfield: Andrea Pirlo
Then: In the summer of 2006, Pirlo had helped Italy win the FIFA World Cup by providing the most assists. The former Inter Milan midfielder was both his country’s and his club’s leading playmaker. In the 2007 Ballon d’Or, Pirlo was named the fifth best footballer in the world.
Now: Pirlo has aged like a fine wine. In fact, many would argue that Pirlo has become more appreciated as he has got older. His dismantling of England in the recent 2014 World Cup provides ample evidence of this. He stayed with Milan until 2011 and then moved to fierce rivals, Juventus. After dazzling during a four-year spell with the club, Pirlo moved to newly-formed MLS side, New York City, in the summer of 2015.
Central Midfield: Gennaro Gattuso
Then: The combative Italian international provided the steel needed in an AC Milan side full of technique. Signed by Milan in 1999 for a fee of €8 million, Gattuso quickly settled into the first XI. He famously had a spell with Scottish side, Rangers, in the late 1990s.
Now: Since retiring in 2013, Gattuso has had several spells in management. After leaving Milan in 2012, Gattuso became the player/manager of Swiss side, FC Sion. After a season with the club, Gattuso was sacked. However, within months he was back managing in Italy with Serie B side, Palermo. Again though, this was short lived and Gattuso was replaced after a poor run of form. In the summer of 2014, Gattuso was appointed as the head coach of Greek Superleague side, OFI Crete. Due to the club’s financial issues, Gattuso resigned. He took over as manager of Pisa in the summer of 2015 and remains as manager.
Central Midfield: Massimo Ambrosini
Then: Ambrosini – very much like Gattuso – provided a certain robustness to the Milan midfield. The energetic midfielder, who had been at the club since 1995, was renowned for his leadership and tactical awareness on the pitch. While he wasn’t always first choice, Ambrosini, when called upon, was always dependable.
Now: Despite interest from English Premier League side, West Ham, Ambrosini retired from the professional game in the summer of 2014. The midfielder had played his final season out at Fiorentina in the Italian Serie A. Before his move to the club, he had spent 18 years at AC Milan and had captained the club between 2009 and 2013.
Attacking Midfield: Clarence Seedorf
Then: The former Ajax academy graduate had been at AC Milan since his 2002 move from local rivals, Inter Milan. Regarded as one of the best midfielders of his generation, Seedorf was the compete footballer. He could pass, dribble, run and shoot. He was considered the most successful player in Champions League history having won the trophy with three separate clubs – the only player to ever achieve such a feat. In the 2006/2007 season, Seedorf was given the UEFA “Best Midfielder” award for his efforts.
Now: After a spell in the Brazilian first division with Botafogo, Seedorf retired in early 2014. Within months, Seedorf was approached to takeover as manager of his beloved AC Milan. However, the dream was short lived and Seedorf was sacked only four months into his tenure with the club. Despite this, Seedorf will be long remembered as one of the finest Dutch internationals to ever grace the game. He hopes to one day manage in the Premier League.
Attacking Midfield: Kaka
Then: The Ballon d’Or winner, Kaka, was, as the honour suggests, the finest footballer on the planet. In the 2006/2007 season, Kaka led the way for Milan with 10 goals in the Champions League. His ability to influence games, almost effortlessly, saw him courted by all the giants of the game. A world-record bid from Real Madrid was increasingly touted.
Now: Strangely, Kaka never quite managed to replicate the form of the 2006/2007 season despite only being in his early 20s. In 2009, he moved to Real Madrid for a mouthwatering fee of around £50 million. However, his time at the club was sketchy to say the least. After, what many would argue to be, a poor spell at Madrid, Kaka got his dream move back to Milan. Again though, the spell was met with disappointment. Kaka no longer had the guile and pace for which he was famed for in the mid-noughties. It was therefore no surprise when, in the summer of 2014, Kaka made the move to the MLS with Orlando City. While in the off-season, Kaka has kept his fitness up by playing for Brazilian first division side, Sao Paulo – incidentally his boyhood club!
Striker: Filippo Inzaghi
Then: Ageing striker, Inzaghi, was Mr Dependable in an all-star Milan side. While he struggled to score domestically, Inzaghi was a key player in Milan’s Champions League run. In 12 games, he managed an impressive six goals. Before moving to Milan in 2001 for a fee of around £17 million, Inzaghi had been a key goalscorer for Juventus. The departure of the legendary Andriy Shevchenko in the summer of 2006 meant there was even more impetus on Inzaghi to produce the goods.
Now: After a career spanning two decades, Inzaghi finally hung up his boots in 2012. Upon retiring, he was offered the chance to manage the AC Milan youth side. On June 9, 2014, Inzaghi was announced as the new manager of AC Milan following the sacking of Clarence Seedorf. His time as manager was largely unsuccessful and he was sacked in the summer of 2015.