By Paolo Camedda
San Siro takes centre stage tonight, with the Champions League clash between AC Milan and Barcelona pitting two of football’s greatest names against each other. The two clubs, often adversaries on the pitch, have actually become friends in the transfer market in recent times. From Michael Reiziger and Christophe Dugarry to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, over the last two decades there have been many deals done between the pair of European giants.
And everything suggests that the Italo-Catalan relationship could continue in the summer. It is no secret that Barcelona would love to add Thiago Silva to their squad, while the Rossoneri are big fans of both Xavi and Seydou Keita.
The first such transaction between the two clubs involved Reiziger and Dugarry. After a single disappointing season in Lombardy, the Dutch full-back and French attacker moved to Catalunya in 1997. The following year saw another flop, Winston Bogarde, make the same switch, while Patrick Kluivert went the same direction to start what would be a prosperous six years with Barca.
In 2001-02 there was another big moment, with the first transfer of an Italian player to Barcelona. The Blaugrana picked up full-back Francesco Coco on loan, with the right to make the move permanent, but despite a good season, the transfer was not confirmed, and the defender would return to Italy the following season with Inter.
Rivaldo | Lasted only one season in Milan after his Barcelona magic
In 2002, though, it was Milan who were the ones to make the most of the relationship as they picked up Rivaldo. However, the Brazilian was unable to repeat the phenomenal performances he had managed in Spain when wearing the red and black, and he would last a little over a year before returning to his homeland.
There were no further moves between the sides until 2008, at which point Milan picked up two Barca players. Full-back Gianluca Zambrotta arrived from Catalunya, while Ronaldinho grabbed the headlines by ending his Ballon d’Or-laden spell in La Liga to wear the Rossoneri’s No. 80 shirt.
There has since been only one piece of business conducted between the clubs, with the highly-publicised 2010 switch of Ibrahimovic to Milan, after just one season at Camp Nou. The Swede has gone on to become a leader for the Rossoneri, helping them to one Scudetto last term and top spot so far this season with nine rounds remaining.
While no deals have been done since Ibra, there are a number of potential future transfers to be considered. The Blaugrana have followed the progress of Milan defender Thiago Silva for some time now, with the Brazilian considered the ideal player to be added to Pep Guardiola’s first XI. With his superb ability when one on one, his superior technical qualities and great charisma, he is considered by many to be the best defender in the world at present.
Xavi | Could he wear the red and black in the future?
The Rossoneri, in return, have more than one eye on Barca’s midfield genius Xavi. The metronome is considered something of a dream by those at Milanello, and would be the ideal regista for Massimiliano Allegri’s side, who lost Andrea Pirlo to Juventus last summer. And who can say that Silvio Berlusconi, who has returned to his physical role as president of the club, doesn’t want to present his supporters with another gift as he did with Ibrahimovic, Ronaldinho and Rivaldo?
But Keita must not be forgotten either. The Malian midfielder is certainly less decisive than Xavi, but he could be an important player to the tactical make-up of Allegri’s squad. The Livornese coach has often demonstrated an appreciation of players who combine great quality with great sacrifice for the good of their team.
Once tonight’s contest and next Tuesday’s return clash have been negotiated, this summer could mark another new chapter in the great relationship between Milan and Barcelona.