Big L, Rest in Peace

Three years ago today, the world lost Nils Liedholm.

Strange phrase, that one. In fact, I'm not even sure it applies here, beyond its most obvious connotation. He's not here anymore, yet we can hardly look at the world in which he moved without seeing him. He changed forever the way teams defend in football, when he was the first to implement zonal marking. Other tactical views he held were original as well: his teams were to keep the ball in order to use it proactively, and he forbade his players to commit tactical tackles in midfield: "When you do [commit fouls], you fail twice: the ball stays with the others, and you send out a message of fear". He's the footballing godfather (in the the traditional sense, not the Marlon Brando sense) of a generation of highly successful men in the sport among whom we count Ancelotti, Maldini, Baresi, Bruno Conti, Falcão and Capello (which makes Capello a rebel revolting against his parent, I just realized, which is the last thing I ever thought I'd view him as; I have always imagined him being the world's youngest perpetually grumpy 70 year old). The chivalry and sense of humor he brought to the sport may have gone missing since, but the advancements he brought about remains intact in the field of athleticism. He was likely the first footballer to place such a high value on it, and was literally decades ahead of the curve. And he was, perversely, the genesis of my relationship with Roma, so you can thank/blame him for all the tens of seconds you've spent around these parts of the Internets over the past 18 months.

He was, however, more than the Mister who conquered Roma's first scudetto since the Fascist era, previously having built his stellar reputation with coaching work he did with Milan, Novara and Verona. Before that he was a star player who, legend has it, once received a standing ovation lasting two minutes, after he misplaced a pass into the feet of an adversary. The crowd was his own, and it was saluting him, not mocking him: it had been the first time in his then two years at the club that they had seen him miss a pass. When he left his native Sweden for Italy it wasn't out of conviction, but rather exhaustion: "I accepted [Milan's] offer because of fatigue. We talked a whole night, when dawn came around I just said yes". He told his father he would be back within a year, two at most–instead he remained his entire life in Italy, influencing it almost as much as it him.

Tonight I will drink a glass of his eponymous wine in remembrance and veneration of football's perhaps first true renaissance man. Yes, he did that as well.





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