AC Milan looked to Sweden for inspiration and three players came to help them lift the title, by Luca Ferrato
The long-term significance
Most of the foreign footballers in Italy in the 1930s had come from South America, often from migrant backgrounds that enabled them to be selected for the national team. After the war clubs widened their search for playing talent, notably into eastern Europe and Scandinavia. In 1950-51 Serie A featured nine players from Denmark and 13 from Sweden. Seven of the latter had been gold medallists at the 1948 Olympics, including a trio who went on to play for AC Milan: midfielders Gunnar Gren and Nils Liedholm plus striker Gunnar Nordahl. Often referred to collectively as “Gre-No-Li”, these three were to play key roles in Milan’s title, the club’s first since before the foundation of city rivals Internazionale in 1908. Liedholm and Nordahl had previously played under Milan’s Hungarian coach Lajos Czeizler when he was in charge of their Swedish side, IFK Norrköping.
Serie A was still full of goals at this point, but a change was under way. From the early Fifties, the smaller teams looked to protect themselves against the international forward lines of the major clubs by using an extra defender, a libero, behind the regular back line. This system had been introduced by the Austrian Karl Rappan first at Servette and then with the Swiss national squad in the 1938 World Cup. One of its most famous interpreters in Italy was Nereo Rocco, who was coach of Padova at this point but would go on to win scudetti and international trophies with AC Milan.
Story of the season
AC Milan started sensationally, winning their first six matches while scoring 26 goals. A series of draws then followed, providing Inter and reigning champions Juventus with the opportunity to make up ground. The nerazzurri took over the top spot on November 12, after a 3-2 win in the first Milan derby of the season. Inter held their lead for ten matches until late January, when they were beaten 3-1 at Como while their rivals were winning 2-0 against Sampdoria with goals from Nordahl and Gren.
After an important 2-0 win over Juventus at the San Siro, Milan’s lead stretched to five points when a Nordahl goal proved enough to win the return derby in March. With two matches to go the lead had been cut to three points, but when both teams lost their penultimate fixture, Milan 2-1 home to Lazio and Inter by the same score at Torino, Czeizler’s team had secured the title. Torino avoided the drop thanks to that defeat of Inter. Roma’s relegation was the first, and so far only, one in their history.
For the record books
Nordahl’s 35 goals set a Serie A record that has yet to be beaten. Inter’s Hungarian striker Istvan Nyers was second on 31, with his Dutch team-mate Faas Wilkes and Juve’s Dane Karl Aage Hansen in joint third. Milan reached 107 goals with two 9-0 wins, plus a 7‑4 victory at Atalanta on Christmas Eve.
Same place today
Fourteen of the teams are in Serie A today. With Juve having spent 2006-07 in Serie B after the Calciopoli scandal, Inter are now the only team never to have been relegated.
Moved furthest away
Both Novara and Pro Patria last played in Serie A in 1955-56 and are now at the third level Lega Pro, Prima Divisione. Como were in Serie A as recently as 2002-03 but have since gone bankrupt and are now in the fourth division. Lucchese folded in the summer of 2008 and have had to restart in a provincial league.
From WSC 262 December 2008