By Fulham’s standards, the summer transfer window of 2002 was a relatively quiet period at Motspur Park, although one new name took the entire football world by surprise.
On Tuesday 21st May, the Club released a statement explaining that AC Milan and Italy legend Franco Baresi would be joining as Director of Football. Sceptics in the media suggested it was a long-term plan for the 42-year-old to succeed current Manager Jean Tigana when his contract expired in a year’s time, but Fulham insisted that Baresi was at the Club to “take on a range of duties including scouting, recruitment of players, the Academy and the development of women's football.”
The appointment was a coup for the Whites, with Baresi arriving with one of the most respected and distinguished careers the game had ever seen. A one-club man, Baresi made 760 appearances during a playing career that spanned two decades at the San Siro, with the sweeper winning every trophy going as part of a dazzling Milan side. Captain for 15 years at the club, he won six Serie A titles, the Supercoppa Italiana four times, three UEFA Champions League winner’s medals, as well as the Super Cup (3) and Intercontinental Cup (2). Throw into that more than 80 caps for Italy – which included winning the World Cup in 1982 – and there were few on the planet who could rival Baresi’s footballing CV.
Unsurprisingly, it was a deal that brought great delight to our Chairman at the time, as Mohamed Al Fayed continued on his quest to firmly establish Fulham among the Premiership’s elite.
“This is the next step in realising my dream of making Fulham one of the foremost clubs in the world,” our ambitious former owner said. “Two years ago I was fortunate enough to attract an international manager with the proven qualities of Jean Tigana and now we have doubly strengthened our team with a man who is not only admired as a world-class footballer but also widely recognised for his knowledge of the game at the highest levels.”
Hopes were high that the Italian’s arrival would help boost the Fulham name, as well as attract quality players to the Club. It seemed a good fit for Baresi, too, as he left a primarily honorary role as Vice President with the Rossoneri for what seemed a more hands-on position with Fulham.
“I’m very honoured to come to Fulham and find it a wonderful challenge that I’ve been offered this position by Mr Al Fayed,” he said shortly after his appointment. “I’m now currently the advisor to the Chairman and Board of Directors.
“It’s obviously a new experience for me being in England but I will give as much input and as much information from my past to the Chairman, to Jean, to the players and to whoever might need it. I am 100 per cent available for Jean or for the Chairman or anyone at the Club.”
He was saying all the right things but, for whatever reason, it just didn’t seem to work. Exactly three months since the initial announcement was made, Baresi was out the door, with the Club releasing another statement confirming his resignation and explaining that the decision was made by mutual consent.
Upon his departure, Baresi commented: “I’ve decided that it would be in my own professional interests, and also a sensible outcome for Fulham FC, to terminate our brief relationship. While all parties have worked constructively to develop our respective roles, I’m disappointed that the nature of my position with Fulham was not as I had envisaged it when I was first approached.”
Just two new players arrived on permanent deals at Fulham while Baresi was at the Club; Argentinean duo Facundo Sava and Martin Herrera. Sava played just 183 minutes of the eight Fulham matches with Baresi on board, and Herrera was never likely to be anything more than third-choice goalkeeper with both Edwin van der Sar and Maik Taylor in front of him in the pecking order. Neither player did anything wrong, it’s just they weren’t the marquee signings that fans perhaps anticipated may arrive courtesy of Baresi’s standing within the game.
Various stories emerged following his resignation, with some papers speculating that he endured a fractious relationship with Tigana, while others put it down to inadequate transfer suggestions being made. Whatever the case, Baresi’s short spell as a Fulham Football Club employee certainly underlined the Chairman’s intent, and no doubt made staff football interesting on the occasions when the World Cup winner pulled his boots back on.