Great one-offs – AC Milan European Cup final special
It’s fairly well-known that AC Milan prefer to wear their white change kit in Champions League finals.
In both the 2005 and 2007 finals against Liverpool, the Italian club actually won the coin-toss for colours but on each occasion opted to switch, which would make one wonder why there was a need for a toss at all.
Milan have played in eight European Cup or Champions League finals – 1963, 1989, 1990, 1994, 1995, 2003, 2005 and 2007 – wearing all-white, winning six and losing two. In their usual rossoneri, the club have played in three finals (1958, 1969 and 1993, all against teams with large amounts of white), but only the middle one of those games was won.
What may not be as commonly known, though, is that for four of those finals, Milan actually wore specially-made white kits, different to their ‘normal’ change strip in each relevant season.
At the beginning of 1986-87, Milan commenced a kit-supply deal with Kappa. Taking over from the company owned by club legend Gianni Rivera, who had provided a change shirt with double pinstripes, they reverted to horizontally-striped trim, similar to that seen earlier in the decade, and that style remained for the 1988-89 season. The only addition for 1988-89 was the scudetto to mark the club’s first league title win in nine years.
In the European Cup, wins over Vitosha, Red Star Belgrade, Werder Bremen and Real Madrid brought Milan to the final, where Romanian side Steaua Bucharest were to provide the opposition.
Steaua’s kit was all-red with blue trim and for the final it was decreed that both teams would change kit. Steaua had worn all-white in beating Barcelona on penalties to win in 1986 but this time they were in dark blue shirts with sky-blue shorts and socks, while Milan would be in white – but, instead of their away kit, it was a plainer kit, resembling that worn by the victorious 1963 team when they beat Benfica. The shorts and socks were also devoid of Kappa logos.
A 4-0 confirmed the ‘lucky charm’ status.
Milan didn’t win Serie A in 1989 and so the scudetto on their shirt was replaced with an image of the European Cup for 1989-90, meaning the change kit looked like this:
Milan would make it back to the European Cup final, this time against Benfica, and they retained their title as they won 1-0 – not until 2017 did another club manage to go back-to-back.
Benfica wore all-red, as they had in 1988 against PSV, and Milan again wore a white kit without the horizontal bands. Apart from the chest logo, the only difference from the previous year’s final was that the sleeve trim was slightly thicker.
For 1990-91, the logo of adidas replaced that of Kappa, but it’s questionable as to how design impact the German giants had as the kits remained practically the same.
The trefoil would appear on the Milan kit for three seasons, with the club reaching the final of the newly rebranded Champions League. The club’s last game in adidas kit – for six years, anyway – and Marco van Basten’s last game ever would see them lose 1-0 to Olympique Marseille (aggressive in their adidas-ness) while wearing black change socks which called to mind the historic default Milanese kit.
Lotto took over the equipment contract, and their first away kit saw the red and black stripes lower down the chest, below the wordmark of sponsors Motta, who had replaced Mediolanum in 1992.
Once more, they made it back to the Champions League final, where Barcelona’s ‘Dream Team’ were apparently ready to be crowned.
Barça wore their special European kit while Milan had a newly-updated version of the 1963 style as they won 4-0 to poop the Catalan party.
For 1994-95, Lotto went bolder with the away kit, which featured liberal doses of red along the shoulders and upper arms, while Opel were now the sponsors.
Milan wore that kit in their second-last Champions League group game, a 2-0 ‘home’ defeat to Ajax (the game actually took place in Trieste as crowd trouble in the game at against Casino Salzburg at the San Siro meant they were docked two points and denied home advantage for the remainder of the group stage).
Ultimately, it took a 1-0 away win to Salzburg in the final game, again in the white strip, to advance to the knockout stages. Instead of waiting for the final, this time the plain white kit was called into action for all of the ties after Christmas – the quarter-final against Benfica and semi-final against Paris St-Germain.
The final pitted them against Ajax again – the sides ‘ third meeting in the competition that season.
For the final, the Dutch side wearing their navy and dark-red change kit with Milan again in plain white. Incidentally, this was the first time that teams had been allowed sponsors’ logos in the final, though size limits meant that the encircled lightning-bolt part of the Opel logo wasn’t permitted.
Ultimately, it was fifth time unlucky in white for Milan, as a teenage Patrick Kluivert came off the bench to get the winner for Ajax five minutes from the end.
It would be eight years before they reached another final, against Juventus in 2003, and this time the regular adidas away kit was worn in a penalty shootout win. That was also the case against Liverpool in 2005 and 2007, though in each case the strips were devoid of horizontal stripes in the first case.
Milan haven’t been in the Champions League since 2013-14, though there are signs of them troubling the upper reaches of Serie A again. If and when they do re-establish themselves as a European power, perhaps in the not too distant future the nice tradition of special white kits in finals might be revived.