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Butler: Nesta swaps the San Siro for Stade Saputo

Noel Butler
7/7/2012 3:12:47 PM
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It's not every Monday afternoon one of world sport's most iconic institutions touches down in Montreal to be welcomed with a white-gloved reception in a private aircraft hangar at Pierre Elliot Trudeau airport. On board, Alessandro Nesta and his AC Milan teammates. There to greet them was their host for the next couple of days, Impact President Joey Saputo. It was May 31, 2010.

It's even rarer an occasion that a World Cup winner, double UEFA Champions League winner and three time Serie A champion joins Major League Soccer.

Pushing back an offer to end his career where it all started at SS Lazio, and following agreement with New York who held his discovery rights a little over a week after flying up from Miami to take in Marco Di Vaio's Impact debut, Alessandro "Sandro" Nesta was formally introduced Friday afternoon as a Montreal Impact player.

From the legendry San Siro in May to the newly remodeled Saputo Stadium in July - obviously not all the soccer script writers reside in Hollywood.

Since joining Lazio as an 8-year old in 1985 Nesta has gone on to enjoy a career that in soccer terms is of Higgs Boson proportions. Signing professional terms with his home town club as an 18-year old back in 1993, his defining moment as a Lazio player came in 2000 when under Sven Goran Eriksson he captained the Stadio Olimpico club to its first Serie A title in 25 years.

It's one thing to win a title for the club from the city of your birth but quite another when that city has but one fierce crosstown rival who Nesta spurned in favour of Lazio and one that just so happens to be the club of choice for generations of your immediate family. It's quite likely a forefather of Nesta's attended Lazio matches from their inception back in 1900.

Introduced to a spontaneous round of applause, Nesta initially addressed the media in very plausible English before reverting to his mother tongue for the duration of the press conference.

Nesta got his initial feel for MLS when he sought out David Beckham when the Galaxy player was on loan at the San Siro back in January 2009.

"It's a hard league to play and if you don't go with the right mindset of adapting to a different culture, a different sport and if you don't prepare yourself in every training session and in every game at the highest level you will suffer in MLS."

That was how Nesta explained Beckham's sage advice to the rarest of talents and an individual who truly transcends his craft. Collecting accolades on the pitch and off it too - Nesta wears none more proudly than his acceptance in 2006 into the esteemed ranks as an Officer in The Italian Order of Merit.

Will, drive and determination are the hallmarks of what separate the very good from the great. Without possessing these qualities in abundance Nesta would have been put out to pasture likely not long after claiming his second UEFA Champions League winners medal in 2007. Save a substitute appearance in Milan's final game a serious back injury kept Nesta out of the entire 2008/2009 campaign.

Come back though the Rossoneri legend most certainly did. His play and influence pivotal as Milan went on to claim the Serie A title two seasons later. Nesta's third and last domestic championship - it led to him signing his final contract with the club. A one-year deal that expired at the conclusion of 2011/12 season and one which didn't bring with it any additional silverware.

For Nesta that final season at Milan will forever be remembered for his majestic performance in a match during the Champions League group stage against a certain nimble footed Argentine who ripped to shreds every defence he faced in a season in which he broke all-time world club soccer scoring records as he went on to claim an unprecedented 72 goals. Thanks in large part to Nesta - Messi didn't get as much as a sniff of goal at the San Siro back on March 28 this year.

Nesta knew his time was coming to an end with AC Milan two months later but what he also knew was that it in no way did it signify he was ready or even willing to hang up his size 11 boots.

His trip from Miami to Saputo Stadium to take in the June 27 league match against Toronto may have been his first visit to Montreal but it isn't the World Cup winner's first connection with la belle ville.

For that we have to look at the pioneering and globally acclaimed sports laboratory that is the Milan Lab – which is housed at the 7-time European Champions practice facility, Milanello.

To all intents and purposes a medical facility that not only greatly assists in speeding up the natural timeline that's ordinarily required to recover and rehabilitate from injury but also pushes back the sands of Father Time.

The Mind Room deployed by the Azzurri at the 2006 World Cup Finals was devised from technologies invented by Montreal based company Thought Technology. Injured during the World Cup Finals Nesta made very good use of it as Italy went on to claim its fourth world title that summer.

Nesta was keen to stress on Friday that he still had much to offer and that his desire to achieve more still burned deep inside.

"I've been watching MLS very closely these past few months from Miami, I've watched the Impact play, other teams play. What I can bring to the table is my experiences. I need to adjust though. Be open minded and adapt to a different soccer, a different culture."

Nesta believes he's a fortnight, three weeks at the most away from making his Impact debut but that need to adapt culturally is already well underway and on very secure footings.

As last Wednesday night's controversial 3-1 home reversal at the hands of Sporting KC entered its Thursday morning post mortem phase for Impact supporters, players and club officials - Nesta was holding court very early Thursday morning at one of Little Italy's more quaint caffe bars.

Mingling with patrons that span the generations and as the football conversations and laughter ebbed and flowed a jovial Nesta warmly embraced most familiar type surroundings.

Montreal is home to one of AC Milan's oldest of overseas supporters clubs - AC Milan Club Montreal. Its patron a certain Silvio Berlusconi and a supporters club where their senior officials are on first name terms with some of the most senior executives in all of world football. San Siro insiders they most certainly are.

One insider spoke of a highly charged environment for the club as the recently concluded season reached its climax in which a number of highly respected long term club servants would be exiting AC Milan simultaneously. Telling TSN.ca, "The last game of 2012 was an emotional one for many Milanisti with the likes of Inzaghi, Seedorf, Zambrotta, Gattuso and Nesta leaving the club. However, in the case of Nesta many of us felt he still [had] something left." Concluding rather prophetically, "Thankfully for those Milanisti living in Montreal the dream continues."

Immediately following his formal introduction Nesta exited the conference room to eagerly make his way down to the Saputo Stadium pitch where he joined up with his new teammates to participate in his first-ever full training session outside of his native Italy.

When the squad split into two teams instead of sporting the customary yellow bib Nesta wore a green one to signify his neutrality on the Stade Saputo pitch.

Come July 28 at Saputo Stadium another World Cup winner, Thierry Henry, will likely be the very first opponent Nesta will look to neutralize as he brings his immense talents and presence to the MLS stage.

Noel Butler

Noel Butler


Noel Butler is an analyst for TSN's soccer coverage and his blog can be read on TSN.ca. You can follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/TheSoccerNoel and listen to his radio program oranges@halftime on TSN Radio 690 Montreal.

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