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Arrigo Sacchi’s Dutch Obsession

Arrigo Sacchi Article for Ultra united

A pariah-cum-legend in Milan, Arrigo Sacchi’s legacy at the San Siro focused heavily his love of Dutch football.

In the ’70s and ’80s, Dutch football was taking over the world. And as we will come to discuss heavily in Ultra United’s Icons section, it was the driving force behind a number of successful teams from that era.

You had the Johan Cruyff and Neeskens-inspired FC Barcelona team under Rinus Michels, and even the legendary Sir Bobby Robson brought it to the UK with Ipswich Town with the acquisition of Frans Thijssen and Arnold Muhren. But if we’re going to talk about the success that Dutch football can bring to an otherwise foreign surrounding, then examples don’t come much clearer than Arrigo Sacchi’s early ’90s revolution of A.C. Milan.

Coming off the back of a somewhat enjoyable time with Parma in the second and top divisions of Italian football, there wasn’t much expected of Sacchi by the time he arrived in the San Siro boardroom. In fact, the club weren’t all that accustomed to winning as much as they were about to, so the slate was pretty much clean by the time to getting his mitts on it.

As such, he didn’t really have much to lose and, along with their enigmatic chairman Silvio Berlusconi, had some plans to truly blow the roof off the stadium which had been home to such dignified and catennaccio-based performances to date. In other words, Sacchi despised how boring Italian football, and was developing a new style to counteract what was so common throughout the division he was intending to overrun.

“Great clubs have had one thing in common throughout history, regardless of era and tactics. They owned the pitch and they owned the ball. That means when you have the ball, you dictate play and when you are defending, you control the space.”

Arrigo Sacchi
on his new Milan style

In more other words, ‘controlling the space’ requires having the players talented enough at working well with it when in possession. And in more other-other words … Sacchi needed to get himself some Dutch players? You think I’m kidding? Well, he started off by purchasing Marco Van Basten from Ajax and Ruud Gullit from Feyenoord, and after they established a working partnership in between the midfield and striking lines, his signing of Frank Rijkaard ensured that there was a Dutch influence throughout all areas of the pitch. So … this is what their team basically looked like from the 1988 season onwards – with some Italian lads thrown in for good measure.

Together, Sacchi had his dynamic trio – and a perfect way of marrying more than a single style to drive a title-winning team. The best thing about all of this, was that it was the ideal recipe for pleasing the fans – an overall heir of familiarity and relatability mixed with a delicate swig of flair and unpredictability to be successful on the pitch. Or, in the words of Chris Eubank … it added a little bit of … ‘spice to it’.

In his four seasons atop the tree of Italian football, Sacchi absolutely cleared up – waltzing his way to over four domestic championships and a European title thrown in for good measure – something that basically became a systematic result of having Dutch players in your team from around this time. Again, more on this in a number of different articles for this site.

And you know what, given how strong the academic and development systems are in Holland, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a number of their key contributors being the reason for another all-conquering era in this time of aesthetic football and top-notch tactics. I mean, a man can dream!

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