Legendary defender Marcel Desailly has revealed why he left AC Milan to join Chelsea back in 1998, even though the Blues had an “absolutely awful” infrastructure.
Desailly forged a reputation as one of the game’s finest players across spells in France, Italy and England. He was also part of the French cohort who won their first ever World Cup in 1998 as well as Euro 2000 two years later.
After one solitary season with Marseille in 1992/93, in which he helped them become the only Ligue 1 side to ever win the Champions League, Desailly moved to Milan and found himself back in the European Cup final in his first year with the Rossoneri.
They came up against a much-fancied Barcelona side who were still managed by Johan Cruyff, but speaking on James Richardson’s Kings of Europe podcast, Desailly recalled how Capello managed to inspire his players ahead of a famous 4-0 win.
“Capello is very clever because he showed us in the dressing room all the articles from the Spanish media. He pasted it with a small translation. They were saying like ‘what is that AC Milan team?’, ‘they don’t know how to play, they just defend’, ‘we as Barcelona have talented players like Romario’,” Desailly said.
“He took our ego and motivation, top players who are annoyed, who are ready to give a big kick to the opponent and you are in trouble.
“That’s why from the start we were like lions. You already have the motivation of the final of the Champions League, this one was overexcitement. This is what Capello pasted on the wall of the dressing rooms. He was teasing us, he did it on purpose, he did it very well.”
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In 1998, Desailly called time on his career in Milan and headed to an ambitious Chelsea side who were still a few years away from becoming powerhouses on and off the pitch.
Before the construction of their ultra-modern Cobham home in Surrey, Chelsea trained on the very edge of London at Harlington, a training campus owned by Imperial College London.
Desailly said that despite the Blues’ lack of suitable facilities, it was a move he made for both footballing and cultural reasons.
“Mediterranean, to a Latin country, and then suddenly Anglo-Saxon, [it was a] different approach. I had a real drop coming to Chelsea,” Desailly admitted. “The infrastructure was not good. It was Harlington…I will not say ‘not good’, I will say ‘awful’! Absolutely awful. Terrible.
“On a Wednesday afternoon, they asked us to move quickly because students were coming to take over the dressing room. You had players like Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, a new [club-record] signing at the time, you are asking him to move quickly and he could not have his massage because the students needed to be there in the dressing room!
“Harlington was terrible and I really had to adapt. The passion of the football, creating new foundations for Chelsea Football Club was my motivation.
“And also the lifestyle. The lifestyle in Milan was not up to what I wanted. It was too much of a star system, you could not walk on the street or go to the supermarket on my own to buy my own food. The lifestyle was not good as a family man, so that’s why I decided to come to London, have a different lifestyle.”
Listen to the Marcel Desailly interview in full in the latest episode of ‘James Richardson’s Kings of Europe’ – the latest podcast from BT Sport Pods out today across major podcast platforms.
Every Monday, journalist James Richardson interviews a Champions League winner from the past 30 years, providing unique insights into some of the biggest moments in European football history: btsport.com/pods