Franco Baresi (right) with senior officials from the AC Milan Academy Dubai during the press conference. Image Credit: Arshad Ali/Gulf News

Dubai: AC Milan and Italy legend Franco Baresi has confided that he would have been in a position to hold his own in modern-day football even against the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 58-year-old perfected the role of ‘sweeper’ or central defender on his way to winning the 1982 Fifa World Cup, three Uefa Champions Leagues, six Serie A titles, four SuperCoppa Italiana crowns, two European Super Cups and two InterContinental Cups in a career spanning more than two decades.

But Baresi — first rejected by Inter Milan in favour of elder brother Giuseppe — made his debut with AC Milan when just 17 and never looked behind after that. He admitted that modern-day strikers like Messi, Ronaldo and Suarez are quick, and hence, difficult to contain by defenders.

“For sure they are strong and fast and quick thinkers. But I am certain they would have been scared to face me as well,” Baresi told media while announcing details of the AC Milan Academy Dubai Champions Cup to be held on February 15-16.

“At AC Milan, we were blessed with some extra-ordinary talent. We had three of the most talented Dutch legends [Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten and Frank Rijkaard] along with some of the best Italians like Carlo Ancelotti and Paolo Maldini. The combination of all these great players made us unbeatable as a team,” he added.

“I was a natural, and I was talented. But perhaps what set me out and a lot of the others was that we were all passionate with what we could do. And then, we also had the self-belief in everything we did. And for me personally, I took it up on myself to be responsible.”

With football constantly evolving, Baresi urged the youth of today to go back to the basics. “What made AC Milan famous? For this one needs to go back to its history and see the success,” he said. “We played with a mentality and we stuck to one constant philosophy. And this is what we want these kids to know today.

“These kids are the future. Maybe they need to watch players like me and see what they can learn. As the elders, we need to be involved as we are here to transmit life lessons and values, and the results will automatically follow. We need to give these kids the opportunities to be educated and behave on and off the field so that they can connect with the audience and be emotionally involved.”

He further argued that coaches at grassroots are one of the most important aspects of getting kids to follow a particular philosophy. “The coaches need to be patient while dealing with the youngsters,” he said.

“The coaches need to feed their passion daily while fuelling their dreams through sacrifice, values and challenges. Only then this will turn out into a great plan going forward.”