|NESTA SET FOR MILAN EXIT
|Defender admits he does not want to sit on the bench as he prepares to leave San Siro
By Mark Doyle
Alessandro Nesta handled the announcement of his imminent departure from AC Milan with the same class, poise and humility he has exhibited on the field throughout his Serie A career.
The World Cup winner disclosed that he had been offered a one-year contract extension by the Rossoneri but reasoned that it would have been wrong of him to accept it.
Having been beset by back problems in recent seasons, Nesta explained that he has long since realised that his 36-year-old body is no longer up to the rigours of competing at the highest level and was therefore unwilling to run the risk of becoming either a burden or a liability.
His professional pride prohibited him from even considering signing a new deal in the knowledge that he would be spending most of his time sitting on the bench at San Siro. For a player who has given so much to Milan over the past decade, contributing so little would have been unbearable.
Nesta admitted that he has even found this season tough going, revealing that he has known since February that he would call time on his Serie A career this summer.
Certainly, there were signs in his first outing of the campaign that time was indeed catching up with him when he was given the run-around by Miroslav Klose in a 2-2 draw with Lazio at the Giuseppe Meazza.
||NESTA'S MEMORABLE MILAN MOMENTS|
However, just four days later in Catalunya, the former Italy international turned in one of his greatest ever displays in a Milan shirt. In the face of an almost relentless onslaught from Barcelona in the Rossoneri’s Champions League opener at Camp Nou, Nesta underlined just why he is considered one of the finest defenders ever to have played the game.
Thiago Silva stole the headlines because of his last-gasp equaliser for the visitors but Nesta had been the best player on the pitch. Indeed, that Milan were even still in the game by the 90th minute was testament to the veteran’s stubborn refusal to bow to the brilliance of the Blaugrana and the magic of Lionel Messi.
At one point during the most enthralling head-to-head between a pair of modern greats, Nesta blocked two goal-bound efforts from the diminutive Argentine in the space of 30 seconds, before later putting in the most wonderfully timed sliding challenge on the triple Ballon d’Or winner.
Nesta’s display at Camp Nou that night was the most exhilarating example of the old adage that while form is temporary, class is permanent. The Roman had showed that he was to defending what Messi was to attacking.
|NESTA IN NUMBERS
|1||The centre-half was a part of the Milan side which lifted the Club World Cup in 2007|
|3||Nesta was voted onto Uefa's Champions League Team of the Year three times: 2003, 2004 and 2007|
|7||He has netted seven goals for the Rossoneri, three of which came during the 2009-10 season|
|10||Nesta has collected 10 titles in his 10 years at San Siro, including two Champions Leagues and two Scudetti|
|223||Ahead of this weekend's game against Novara, he has made 223 Serie A appearances for Milan|
Of course, Milan fans had long since grown accustomed to such majestic defensive displays from their No. 13, who arrived at San Siro from Lazio in the summer of 2002.
Nesta had not wanted to part company with his beloved Biancocelesti, admitting recently that he was not even given time to collect his things before being whisked away to Milan by his cash-strapped employers. However, from the moment he touched down in Lombardy, Nesta committed himself fully to the Rossoneri cause and his impact was almost instant.
He ended his first season with the club with a Champions League winners’ medal around his neck, after Milan’s penalty shoot-out success over Juventus in Manchester. Nesta admitted on Thursday that the Rossoneri’s triumph at ‘The Theatre of Dreams’ remains the most beautiful moment of his career, and while central defensive colleague Paolo Maldini was named Man of the Match that night, the former Lazio skipper had been just as impressive.
He played an integral part in Milan’s Scudetto success the following year - just as he had as captain of hometown club Lazio in 2000 - and although the Rossoneri were scuppered in their attempts to claim a second Champions League title in three seasons by their infamous six-minute blackout against Liverpool in Istanbul, they gained revenge over the Reds in Athens in 2007. Nesta’s contribution had been key in that regard, given he made a crucial block on a shot from Dirk Kuyt while Milan were struggling to contain Liverpool during the first half.
And that is the thing: while Nesta rarely needs to resort to last-gasp tackles and desperate blocks, so sound is his positional sense, his willingness to throw himself in harm’s way and to put his body on the line often goes unheralded. And this, in spite of his well-documented injury issues. In many ways he has been the perfect centre-half: the ideal mix of grace and grit, of tenacity and technique, of poise and passion.
"The pace of European and Italian football is too quick for me now," Nesta reflected during his press conference at Milanello on Thursday. In fairness, though, it’s about time that the game caught up with him; he’s been making it look far too easy for well over a decade now.