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Old 04-09-2008, 10:12   #99
Ashish
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Legend of Swedish and Italian football who brought the Serie A title to AC Milan as player and boss

Midfielder Nils Liedholm, who died on 5 November, 2007, aged 85, was one third of the most fearsome line-up of attacking players that both AC Milan and the Swedish national side have ever enjoyed.

Along with the two forwards Gunnar Gren and Gunnar Nordahl – the trio became known collectively as ‘Gre-No-Li’, a contraction of their three surnames – Liedholm came to be a dominant figure in Italian football.

They also won an Olympic gold medal for Sweden together in 1948 and 10 years later Gren and Liedholm were World Cup runners-up. Liedholm then had a long and successful management career in Italy.

Nils Liedholm was born on 8 October, 1922, and grew up in Valdemarsvik. As a child he dreamed of becoming a professional footballer and his career began at the age of 20 when he joined IK Sleipner.

In 1946 he moved to IFK Norrkoping where he was part of two league title-winning sides along with Gunnar Nordahl. He made his Swedish international debut shortly after moving to Norrkoping.

Two years later, under the guidance of the English manager George Raynor, Sweden beat Austria, Korea and Denmark to reach the football final of the London Olympics, attracting many plaudits along the way. They beat Yugoslavia 3-1 in the final at Wembley.

This feat was enough to attract the attention of AC Milan, who, after 40 years without a trophy, were desperate for fire-power. They signed Nordahl first, with Gren and Liedholm joining in September 1949. The cruel irony of this transfer was that at this time the Swedish national team only selected amateur players and Liedholm’s international career was put on hold for almost a decade.

In the first season of the ‘Gre-No-Li’ at Milan, the team scored an incredible 118 goals, 18 of which were Liedholm’s. The following year they secured the Serie A title with a record points haul. It was the first of four league titles, plus two Latin Cups, Liedholm would win in a 12-year stay with the club. In total he made almost 400 appearances for the club and scored more than 80 goals.

He was an early believer in the importance of fitness, putting himself through vigorous training regimes to gain an advantage. His reward was that he was still playing at 39. He was also meticulously accurate with the ball - according to footballing legend, he went two years without misplacing a pass.

When the Swedish Football Association relaxed its rules on selection in time for the 1958 World Cup, which it was hosting, 36-year-old Liedholm was made captain. Sweden topped their group, beat the USSR and West Germany, then faced Brazil in the final.

Liedholm scored the opening goal after just four minutes with a strike Pele (who was 17 at the time and playing in his first World Cup) later described as the best goal he’d ever seen against Brazil. But the bravura Brazilians were too strong and eventually won the game 5-2.

After retiring in 1961, he got an assistant manager’s job at AC Milan, eventually taking over for the first of three spells in charge two years later. His management career also included stints at Monza, Verona and Varese (both of the latter were promoted during his tenure).

In his second spell with Milan he guided them to the 1978/79 league championship, then repeated the trick with Roma in 1983, missing out on the European Cup on penalties to Liverpool the following year. His teams were renowned for their fair play and discipline and he was also one of the few managers to employ a zonal marking system.

He finally retired from football in 1997 to run a vineyard with his family in Cuccaro in Northern Italy. He is recognised as one of the greatest players ever to come out of Sweden and there is an annual youth football tournament held in his home town of Valdemarsvik named in his honour.

Bruno Conti, star of Roma’s championship-winning side, said he owed Liedholm "my career as a footballer and my formation as a human", while AC Milan President Silvio Berlusconi praised "a champion, a gentleman, a friend".
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