Legend Profile: Alessandro Nesta
Alessandro Nesta: Introduction
One of the greatest defenders of all time and one of the best to ever wear a Biancocelesti jersey, this legend profile will be exploring the career of the one and only Alessandro Nesta. Born and bred a Laziale from the age of nine, Nesta is a defender I looked up to and aspired to be like when I was young. He is truly a legend in every sense of the word.
Born on March 19, 1976, in Italy’s capital, Alessandro Nesta joined La Prima Squadra della Capitale in 1985 after his father (being a Lazio fan) had declined an offer from rivals Roma. He remained in Lazio’s youth ranks until he was called up to the senior side for his debut against Udinese in 1994, at the young age of 17.
Under Sven-Göran Eriksson, the 1.87m tall center-back became the captain in the 1997-98 season. He scored the winning goal in the 1998 Coppa Italia Finals against Milan and went on to win Serie A Young Footballer of the Year that same season. He was also part of the Italy squad that won the 1996 European under-21 Championships. He made his first senior cap in a 1998 World Cup Qualifier against Moldova in October of 1996 and played in all three group games in the tournament before missing the rest of the World Cup due to injury. The following season, the injury picked up in the 1998 World Cup forced him to miss pretty much the first half of the season. When he returned in December, he nearly led Lazio to their second-ever Scudetto but fell short by one point on the final day. However, Nesta didn’t go trophy-less that season as he captained Lazio to a UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup win over Mallorca, followed by a UEFA Super Cup win over Manchester United to finish the season. The 1999-00 season was definitely the most fruitful of his Lazio career as in October he was appointed as a member of Lazio’s board of directors by then-president Sergio Cragnotti. He led Lazio to the Scudetto they had narrowly missed out on the season before, this time winning it on the final day. He also won the 2000 Coppa Italia with Biancocelesti to complete the domestic double. Nesta then participated in the 2000 European Championships, finishing runners-up to France.
Nesta won his last trophy with Lazio in the following season’s 2000 Supercoppa Italiana. Incredibly, Nesta won three consecutive Serie A Defender of the Year awards from 2000-2002, showing everyone why he was one of the best defenders in the game. He was also Italy’s first-choice center-back going into the 2002 World Cup. Unfortunately, financial troubles forced Lazio to sell off a load of their best players in 2002, including Alessandro Nesta who was shipped off to Milan for a fee of €30.5 million. He spent nine seasons with his boyhood club, amassing 261 total appearances.
Nesta’s first two seasons with Milan were very successful, as he won the 2002-03 Champions League and Coppa Italia in his first season, and won his fourth consecutive (and last) Serie A Defender of the Year award. In his second season, he won his second Scudetto and was elected to UEFA’s Team of the Year for the third consecutive year. Nesta was also part of Italy’s 2006 World Cup-winning side but unfortunately missed the knockout rounds due to injury. He would finish his international career with 78 caps. Nesta went on to play eight more seasons with the Rossoneri, winning six more major trophies for the Lombardic club, including another Champions League title in 2007, and his third and final Scudetto in 2011. He made 326 appearances for Milan before leaving for MLS club Montreal Impact on July 5, 2012, on a free transfer at the age of 36.
Determined to end his career off on a high, Nesta won the 2013 Canadian Championship with the Quebec-based club, his only trophy in his two seasons with them. He announced his retirement after the 2013 MLS Cup Playoffs after contributing 36 caps for the Impact; however, he then had a brief stint with Marco Materazzi’s former side Chennaiyin FC before retiring for good in 2014.
His total club career spanned 22 seasons in which he made an immense 624 appearances in all competitions for the four clubs he made appearances for. He won 18 major club trophies and collected 14 major individual awards throughout his journey.
Alessandro Nesta was an extremely talented and classy defender – you have to be to have the extraordinary career that he had. He was a dominant and complete defender, who despite being a strong and imposing physical presence, was also an extremely agile and elegant player. He was also great with the ball at his feet, had excellent passing abilities, and great balance which allowed him to start plays from the back. This combination of strength, athleticism, and technical ability led to comparisons to legendary Italian defender Franco Baresi. Nesta was versatile as well, starting his career off as a right-back before moving to center-back, but able to play anywhere along the backline. He was also excellent in the air and is well-known for his quickness and stamina, especially earlier in his career.
Nesta had pretty much no weaknesses in his game, as he was fantastic positionally and tactically as well. His ability to read the game enabled him to anticipate and close down opponents in one-on-one situations and stop attackers in their tracks. Furthermore, his defensive IQ allowed him to continue to play at a high level consistently, even when he started to lose pace and stamina near the end of his career. He stood out for his powerful ball-winning, artistic sliding tackles, acrobatic clearances, and ability to time his challenges well. In summary, everything you would want in a defender, Alessandro Nesta had it.
Alessandro Nesta: Concluding Thoughts
Alessandro Nesta is a true legend of the game: he is often considered to be one of the best defenders of his generation, and even of all time. It is a shame Lazio had to sell him at the peak of his career, but to me, he is a Laziale without a doubt. Nesta is an icon that I, and many others, watched growing up and hoped to be just like in the future. He was truly a world-class player.