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David Schiavone On October - 11 - 2010

Legend of Calcio: Marcel Desailly

Marcel Desailly is one of the most decorated players in the modern era of football, winning the European Cup on two occasions, Serie A, F.A Cup and of course World Cup and European Championship in what was a glittering career.

He was born Odenke Abbey on 7th September 1968 in Accra, Ghana, though he changed his name upon his mother’s marriage. He moved to France from Ghana as a four year old with his mother who married a French diplomat.

He was the half brother of Seth Adonkor and it was he who provided the inspiration for Desailly to begin a career in football.

Adonkor was playing with Nantes, so Desailly, taking his lead signed as a youth with the French team as well, but Seth Adonkor tragically died in a car accident and as a tribute to his brother he took it upon himself to do everything he could to become a professional footballer.

After breaking into the Nantes team as an eighteen year old, two years after the tragic car accident he quickly established himself as a mainstay in the Nantes side and in six years he made 167 appearances for Les Canaris. But during his time he did not hold any trophies aloft.

However, his sparking form caught the eye of one of French football’s giants, Olympique de Marseille who purchased the defender in 1992.

It only took one season for the silverware come and it was in the Champions League as his Marseille team beat AC Milan 1-0 thanks to a Basile Boli goal. But his time in the south of France was to be short lived, as the team he helped defeat in Munich were so impressed they swooped for Desailly in October 1993.

Joining one of the greatest club teams in the world at the time Desailly found it difficult to command a place at the back during the early period at Milan, with Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, Alessandro Costacurta et al in the back line, the French international found himself more akin to a midfield enforcer role. But with the retirement of Baresi he did move to the defence on a more regular basis.

At the end of his first season in Milan he had completed a double winning his first Serie A title and also the Champions League, beating Johan Cruyff’s Barcelona Dream Team 4-0 with the Desailly scoring a magnificent goal in the final on his way to become the first player to win the trophy with two different clubs in consecutive seasons.

In 1996 he won Serie A once more as Milan were the dominant force in Italian football during the early nineties. Nicknamed ‘The Rock’ his strength, speed, passing and aerial ability meant he was a formidable opponent for even the best forwards.

Following four years with AC Milan, he moved on two Chelsea where he became a stalwart for their side as they looked to challenge the big boys of English football, Arsenal and Manchester United. But during his time in London he couldn’t help his side to the title but did lead them on their way to an F.A Cup victory in 2000.

Albeit for an astonishing club career, he will be remembered most for his exploits with the French national side. He made his international debut in 1993, but was not established as a first choice defender until 1996 when he helped France reach the semi-finals of Euro ’96, but an even bigger challenge was on the horizon.

As the 1998 World Cup was held in France, the expectation of Les Bleus to do well in the tournament was immense and Aime Jacquet had proceeded to build a defence around Desailly, Laurent Blanc , Bixente Lizarazu and Lilian Thuram.

Inspired by a magnificent Zinedine Zidane and a rock hard defence which conceded only two goals during the tournament, the hosts emerged victorious by beating Brazil 3-0 in the final despite Desailly being sent off midway through the second half.

It was to be the beginning of a golden age for French football, with Desailly at the heart of the team they went on to win another major trophy, this time beating Italy via a golden goal in the 2000 European Championships.

After this tournament Didier Deschamps announced he would step down as France captain, passing the mantle onto Marcel Desailly, who remained as captain until his retirement from international football after the 2004 European Championships, where he won his 116 cap for France making him the France’s most capped player at the time. He has since been overtaken by Lilian Thuram.

He also left Chelsea in 2004 to wind down his career in Qatar where he won a league title with Al-Gharafa where curiously, he was also the club’s top scorer for the season with 15 goals in 28 games.

Announcing his retirement in 2005, he has since gone on to an extensive media career, working for the BBC and ITV in the UK, also becoming a regular commentator with Canal Plus in France. He is currently a UNICEF ambassador to Ghana and has been touted as Ghana’s next national team coach.

As one of the most decorated, determined and decisive players to have played the game in Italy, Marcel Desailly was at the pinnacle of world football for over a decade, an integral part of many successful sides he can be nothing less than a Legend of Calcio.

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