These days, a centre-back who has pace, a creative string to their bow and who can stop even the most lethal strikers in their tracks is pretty much…well, non-existent.

All of Europe’s outstanding sides yearn for a player of Alessandro Nesta’s ilk.

Littered in small segments across the continent you will find those who embody elements of this skillset, but in truth, no one has the whole package.

Starting out his career in the mid-90s with Lazio, further north, the finest Italian centre back the world has ever seen was coming to the end of his iconic career. Franco Baresi had dominated Serie A during his time at AC Milan, leaving behind a one of a kind legacy that would never be matched.

Nesta would come pretty darn close, though.

His debut for I Biancocelesti would come under Dino Zoff in 1994, but it would take another season and a half for Nesta to begin to really make his mark. He flourished under the tutelage of Zdenek Zeman, who instilled a tactical set-up that suited Nesta down to a tee.

Adept at carrying the ball with pace, it was for this reason his career had initially began as a centre-forward. Yet, with an accuracy and elegance to his distribution, the natural progression further away from goal where his best qualities could shine was inevitable.

Alessandro Nesta of Lazio meets his new coach Roberto Mancini...
Alessandro Nesta of Lazio meets his new coach Roberto Mancini… | Grazia Neri/Getty Images

What set him apart from the rest wasn’t just his outstanding defensive qualities, but this technical and tactical majesty.

Balancing brawn with brains and solidity with style, Nesta would then leave Zeman’s successor Sven-Göran Eriksson with no choice but to award him the captaincy at Lazio in 1997. It would come as little surprise that the club would end decades without a trophy by lifting the Coppa Italia under Nesta’s leadership in 1998.

Players, even the most experienced, would prosper when lined up alongside him. And not just anyone, we’re talking Roberto Mancini, Diego Simeone, Juan Sebastian Verón and Pavel Nedved. In 1999 Lazio would miss out on the Scudetto in dramatic fashion – by a single point – but they would finally win the big one just a year later.

Complete in every aspect, all that truly lacked for ‘Sandro’ was the Serie A title. It was inevitable he’d claim it soon enough, but by filling his cabinet with a historic domestic double in 2000, he could truly cement his place as a world great.

Their 72-point haul secured them the title – a tally only bettered by the club last season – while a 2-1 aggregate Coppa Italia victory added gloss to their glory.

Nesta was uncontested in the world of central defenders. Many across the globe were staking a claim – Fabio Cannavaro among them – but the totality of his excellence had Nesta placing one foot on Baresi’s sky-high pedestal. He would then go on to achieve even greater success with his next club AC Milan, but also crucially with the Italian national team.

In the latter stages of his career his body began fail him – he was injured for most of Italy’s 2006 World Cup triumph – but that, in no way, detracts from the incredible career of one of the best central defenders of all time.

For more from Ross Kennerley, follow him on Twitter!



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