Giuseppe and Franco Baresi: the kings who ruled both sides of the Milan divide

Giuseppe and Franco Baresi: the kings who ruled both sides of the Milan divide

When two brothers play their home games in the same stadium, it’s probably safe to assume that any sibling rivalry is sacrificed for the greater common good of the team they represent. For Franco and Giuseppe Baresi, however, such niceties are hardly applicable. The more celebrated sibling, Franco, was the iconic defender and long-time captain of AC Milan. Meanwhile, older brother Giuseppe served as a midfielder and captain of Internazionale.

Born in Travagliato, near Brescia around 80km from Milan, in February 1958, the elder brother always had a head start on Franco, who entered the world two years later. It meant that, in their footballing career, by the time that the younger brother turned up at the San Siro to trial for Inter, Giuseppe was already settled in the club’s Primavera system.

Having a brother already established at the club may have made it easier for Franco to obtain a chance to impress, but when the Inter coaching staff decided that he was too small and not sufficiently physically developed, any advantage was irrelevant. They sent Franco away with advice to build himself up, come back next year and try again. At that moment, any hopes of the two siblings being brothers in stripes of the same shade were dismissed.

At such moments in a nascent career, it’s always tempting to speculate how the history of the player and clubs may have turned out differently had Inter decided to take a punt on the skinny kid looking to emulate his brother, but there is no doubt at all that it was fellow occupiers of the San Siro, AC Milan, who profited from the decision.

Following a further rebuttal after a trial, this time by Atalanta, Franco eventually convinced Rossoneri coach Guido Settembrino that he was worth taking a chance on. He joined AC Milan, guaranteeing that, after another five years or so, the brothers would be facing each other whenever the Derby della Madonnina was played.

Although split between blue and red, one thing the brothers did share was an early tragedy in their lives. Whilst still in their teenage years both their parents died, but the event fired the dedication and commitment of the brothers to succeed.

Giuseppe would make his first-team debut in 1977, once again heading his brother, but this time Franco had closed the gap, as he followed along into the top tier of calcio just a season later.

Both would enjoy successful careers, and whilst the masterful Franco would achieve the greater honours, it would be naive to ignore those of Giuseppe. He would play almost 500 league games for Inter across a 16-year career and represent Italy 18 times. Hardly worth turning one’s nose up at.

Original Series  |  Brothers in Arms

Most of Giuseppe’s triumphs came in the early years of the 1980s. The first silverware arrived in the form of the 1977/78 Coppa Italia. By now he had been elevated to captain of the team and developed a versatility that allowed the coach to deploy him either as a central defender or defensive midfielder. It was in the former role that he led his team to victory over Napoli at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico.

Two years later, the Scudetto was landed by Inter, finishing three points clear of Juventus. This time, Giuseppe was following Franco, as Milan had secured the domestic title the year before only then to suffer a precipitous fall of fortunes. The same season that Inter were champions would see a low for his younger brother as Milan were relegated for the first time in the club’s history following a match-fixing scandal. Contrary emotions for the brothers. 

The Rossoneri would bounce straight back up to the top tier but endure another relegation in 1982, before again returning at the first time of asking. Whilst Franco was struggling with Milan’s yo-yo fortune, however, Giuseppe was prospering. Another Coppa Italia victory in 1982, this time beating Torino over two legs, brought another winners medal and a trophy lift for the elder brother. Half-a-dozen fallow years then passed before a second Serie A title in 1988/89 and a UEFA Cup success three years later.  

If Giuseppe’s most prosperous years were the early 1980s, Franco would enjoy the latter part of that decade and the early years of the following one. After the miseries of relegation, Milan forged forward to build a dynasty of success with Franco as captain of the team that came to dominate European football.

Scudetti in 1988, 1992, 1993, 1994 and 1996 were enough to illustrate the club’s premier position in Italy. However, it was the European Cup successes in 1989, 1990 and 1994, plus triumphs in the Intercontinental Cup in 1989 and 1990, that meant Franco’s achievements would offer him the fraternal bragging rights. Add in his 81 appearances for the Azzurri and the case is unanswerable.

Together, the brothers achieved eight league titles in a period of 16 years at the height of Serie A, and no less than 23 major honours in total. They also accumulated 99 caps between them. Strangely, they were only ever selected for a major international tournament on one occasion – the 1980 European Championship played on home soil. Even then the brothers were kept apart, as only Giuseppe enjoyed any playing time. Italy finished fourth, losing out to Czechoslovakia for the bronze medal.

There’s a certain symmetry to appreciate when considering the equity of the Baresi brothers. Sharing their skills across both clubs who shared the San Siro, not quite equals perhaps, but certainly more than merely significant elements in their individual clubs’ successes. That lingering thought remains, though: how would the fates have played out had Franco not been refused the chance to join his brother at Inter? How much more successful would they have been as Brothers in Arms?

By Gary Thacker @All_Blue_Daze

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