The closest Johan Cruyff ever got to the 1994 Champions League trophy came in the days leading up to the final, when Barcelona’s ever-confident coach was pictured with the cup he was convinced would soon be his.
Yet, the 4-0 walloping Fabio Capello’s AC Milan dished out in Athens that night was so emphatic, so blisteringly convincing, it was more than just a chastening defeat, but effectively brought down the curtain on one of the golden eras in Barcelona’s history.
Cruyff’s unwavering confidence in his all-conquering ‘Dream Team’ just about came across in his pre-match comments, as he declared: “Barcelona are favourites. We’re more complete, competitive and experienced than [in the 1992 final] at Wembley. Milan are nothing out of this world. They base their game on defence, we base ours on attack.”
While Cruyff’s characteristic bravado would prove to be misplaced, the Dutchman wasn’t entirely off base with his assessment of Milan’s and Capello’s priorities at the time.
Milan wrapped up their third consecutive Serie A title in the summer of 1994 but with a remarkably contrasting style to the previous Scudetti. In Capello’s first two campaigns, Milan finished with the most goals in the league, in a period of time which encompassed the side’s famous 58-game unbeaten run in Serie A.
However, come the 1993/94 campaign, Capello’s Milan scored just 36 goals in 34 games. Thirty-six. Not only is this the lowest ever goal tally for an Italian champion, no title winning side in the history of English, Spanish or German top flight football has ever averaged fewer goals.
However, they only conceded 15.
For his first full-time managerial position, Capello inherited Arrigo Sacchi’s legendary side in 1991, maintaining the same distinct 4-4-2 formation and organised press his predecessor insisted upon. Capello also didn’t dare alter the revered backline of Mauro Tassotti, Alessandro ‘Billy’ Costacurta, Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini.
Yet, Milan were never quite as fluid or free-flowing under Capello compared to Sacchi – a fact the latter never missed an opportunity to point out. Then, to ensure the Rossoneri were even more defensively sound, Capello snapped up the dominant centre-back Marcel Desailly in 1993 and placed him in front of that fabled back four as a defensive midfielder. It’s almost surprising they conceded as many as 15 goals.
However, going into the 1994 final Milan were without two members of their first choice defence – Baresi and Costacurta were both suspended – and scored four goals in the space of just 90 minutes.
Milan, fired up by the provocative comments from Cruyff and the Spanish media as a whole, lived up to Capello’s demands to his side pre-game: “We must show our claws.”
Daniele Massaro – a member of the side that bitterly lost to Marseille at the same stage the previous year – opened the scoring after 22 dominant minutes from the Rossoneri. Milan’s top scorer that season (with just 11) doubled their lead in first half stoppage time with a wonderful team goal.
At half-time Capello calmly told his team: “Lads, be careful,” as he recalled to UEFA years later. “This is a team that can turn a result on its head in three or four minutes.”
It only took Dejan Savicevic two minutes of second half football to make it 3-0 to Milan, with a stunning goal, impishly lobbing Barcelona’s goalkeeper Andoni Zubizarreta from the edge of the penalty area. 15 minutes hadn’t passed before Desailly came buccaneering into the box – the Frenchman later admitted ‘I don’t know what I was doing in that position’ – to curl in Milan’s fourth of the night before the hour mark.
Milan’s dominance was such that they didn’t allow Barcelona’s Romario – the prolific Brazilian striker who would be crowned FIFA’s World Player of the Year a few months later – a single shot on target throughout the match.
Despite suffering the humiliation of conceding four goals, Zubizarreta was characteristically humble in defeat, admitting: “They were just perfect.”