Filippo Galli: The overlooked Rossoneri warrior
If you are in Milano, and ask any random football lover about ‘Galli’, they would call up a certain goalkeeper of the AC Milan side of the eighties, but most of them will find it hard to recall their memories of another Galli who played in the same team. Yes, we are talking about Filippo Galli, who has ever remained shadowed by his elder brother.
Filippo Galli, who turns 54 today was a part of that “Invincible” AC Milan team which went unbeaten through the 1991-92 season under newly recruited Fabio Capello.
He was a calm, composed, consistent, and tactically versatile player, with excellent technique, distribution.
Galli was known for his man-marking ability and defensive awareness.
He kick-started his youth career at Milan’s youth academy in 1981. His excellence in reading the game prompted the Milan officials to promote him into the senior side. He was often called on to fill in at any defensive position, but his main position was centre-back.
He is mostly remembered for his lengthy and successful spell with A.C. Milan. Galli was promoted to the senior team in 1982 after spending 1 year in the youth academy, but he was sent on loan to the Abbruzese outfit Pescara to gain some match experience.
Galli was initially an important member of the starting line-up alongside team-mates Franco Baresi, Mauro Tassotti, and Paolo Maldini, featuring in what is considered to be one of the greatest defences of all time. Despite his ability, he often struggled with injuries throughout his career, and predominantly served as a back-up in his later seasons, following the emergence of Alessandro Costacurta. The emergence of talented young players and his long lasting partnerships with injuries resulted in the ouster of Galli from the starting eleven. He was usually used as a substitute in later years, although he was still able to contribute to important victories with the club.
It could not be any harsher if you were a defender and was a part of the great Milan side of the late eighties and the early nineties, from a personal perspective. The defensive quartet of Tassotti-Baresi-Costacurta-Maldini was irreplaceable and there was hardly any defender at that time who could replace this now folklored back four. Filippo Galli was unfortunately present in the Milan squad at an era when it boasted perhaps the greatest defensive quartet in the history of Italian football. Remaining eclipsed by these more prominent names became an eternity for Galli, but still he never left his beloved Milan team for some first team action. His bond with the Curva Sud had already been cemented, and Galli kept his journey on the way of attaining a ‘Bandieri’ status.
Cut to the night of the 1994 UEFA Champions League final, the epic clash between Capello’s Milan and Johan Cruyff’s ‘Dream Team’. Milan lost the previous final to Marseille, which was incidentally the first UCL Final ever.
Capello’s team that season won the Scudetto by scoring only 38 goals! His tactics was stamped as ‘Negative’ by the European media while on the contrary, Cruyff’s team was playing some of the most beautiful football in the continent led by their legendary front duo of Romario and Stoickov. The bets were tilted towards Barca, so were the neutral asthetophillic masses. But the pinnacle arrived when in the press meet Cruyff insulted Milan’s style of play stamping themselves as the clear favourites. The confident attitude of the Dutchman did not emit any sign of concerns before facing one of the most technical sides in the history of the game!
Filippo Galli could not have been in the picture but the situation proved to be blessing in disguise. The talismanic defensive duo of Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurta were suspended for the final. Fabio Capello and countless Rossoneri faithfuls had sleepless nights thinking about their potential peril. They were to face the most feared duo of world football of that time-Romario and Stoickov and they were out of the services of their regular centre-back pairing, a reason enough strong to make any manager insomnic.
The man who previously replaced the great Nils Liedholm in the Milan hot seat in his first stint had to make a call, and Filippo Galli was summoned. His duty-‘Stopping two of the greatest attackers of all time’!
The fate was seemingly poised against the Rossoneri warriors, Galli’s career was standing on a make or break situation; from this juncture he had only two choices-to rise to the occasion or to drop the shoulders and try to escape from an insulting defeat, potentially. But Filippo Galli had a statement to make on the grandest stage of them all that is ‘I can also defend’!
The final in Athens saw Capello’s Milan clinching the coveted prize netting four goals one after another and conceding none. Romario D’Souza Faria and Hristo Stoickov were left motionless by a certain Monza born. Cruyff saw his fabled front line getting awestruck infront of Filippo Galli, someone for whom the legendary Dutch obviously felt no necessity to do any homework on. Milan beat the Catalan giants by the heaviest margin in the history of UCL finals till date and Filippo Galli had played an integral part on the night which has now become a folklore in Milan.
Galli played for Milan for two more years winning many accolades before leaving for Reggiana in 1996. Galli would also have his spell in the Vicarage Road playing for the Hornets. But the boy from Monza will be remembered for the 217 times he marched onto the field for the Diavolo.
The name of Filippo Galli has never been kept and would never be kept in the same brackette as some of his more famous colleagues but he will forever be engraved in the memories of the football-romantics.
There are often times when playing a silent part in an act becomes tougher than doing a more vocal role. There will not be many people in this world who realises this better than ‘the lesser known Galli’. In an era when the Milan dressing room remained illuminated by the exalted presence of some of the greatest names in the business, Filippo Galli consciously kept him outside of their aura, realised his limitation and preferred to remain to himself and serve for his beloved institute from the background. He could join other big names and establish himself as one of the most prominent names of the game, but he remained where where he thought he belonged, as long as he could.
In a world where defying the allurance of potential startdom only for keeping intact a certain virtue called ‘loyalty’ is becoming a rarity with every passing day, the likes of Galli remain afloat like islands in an ocean. Every great institution that ever existed had one thing in common always-they had some exceptional brains, and at the same time they possessed a bunch of faithful people who kept working hard setting examples of the word ‘commitment’. Such characters never had the spotlights upon them, but they never complained. They are the real jewels of an institution and AC Milan fortunately had one in the form of Filippo Galli.