• By Alessandro Schiavone

Filippo Galli: AC Milan is my family but I loved my time with Watford


EXCLUSIVE by Alessandro Schiavone


Former Watford centre-back Filippo Galli exuded positivity and was brimming with confidence throughout the interview.

And how could it have been any different? After a distinguished career with AC Milan in which he was crowned Serie A champion five times and also lifted the Champions League a staggering three times in the space of five years, Galli used his guile and know-how to help AC Milan produce homegrown stars after the end of his career. Successful on the pitch and off it.

During his time as Milan’s Head of Youth Sector between 2009 and 2018, he oversaw the emergence of future first-team players Gianluigi Donnarumma, Manuel Locatelli, Mattia De Sciglio, David Calabria and Patrick Cutrone. They have all gone on to play for the Italian national team.

And unlike many other footballers, who go off the rails once they hang up their boots, Galli revealed that he did not flounder after calling time on his career in 2003. The former Hornet prides himself on what he pulled off following the end of a great career.

He said: “I stopped playing pretty late. I was in Serie C, the third tier of Italian football, playing for Pro Sesto and I was 40 years old . It came on the back of a beautiful experience in London with Watford in the Championship. But I had been pondering retirement for quite some time so I wasn’t unprepared. After a couple of months, I managed to return to AC Milan, which is the club of my heart and like a family to me.

“First I was Franco Baresi’s assistant and coach in Milan’s youth set-up, then I did one year with the Primavera [the Italian equivalent of the under 21s] and then I worked alongside Carlo Ancelotti and Mauro Tassotti’s for Milan’s first team.

“Then AC Milan offered me the chance to become their head of youth sector, and for me it was a real honour to take up this role, which is anything but easy. I tried to do it as well as I can. It was a job that I loved at a club that I love.”

“It’s difficult to compare the emotions of playing football with the emotions you experience after the end of your career. But seeing young players make their debut for the first team or when they play well and pull off something spectacular on the pitch is really gratifying. But of course, nothing compares to playing football.”

Several Premier League sides, including Chelsea, are keeping tabs on Milan goalkeeper Donnarumma, who is out of contract in the summer.

Galli always knew that the budding goalkeeper, who made his debut in October 2015 aged 16 and went on to play more than 200 times with Milan in Serie A and followed in Gianluigi Buffon’s footsteps with the Italian national team, had a bright future ahead.

Galli recalls: “There’s always hope that some players could break into the first team. Everybody could see Donnarumma had great potential, he was predestined. Then Sinisa Mihajlovic handed him his Milan debut in late 2015 and Donnarumma grabbed the chance with both hands. But it was not easy for such a young goalkeeper to play for a club like Milan at a stadium like the San Siro.”

The 58-year old may only have spent one season with the Hornets, in the autumn of his career in 2001/2002, but such was the lasting impression the club made on him that Galli will always cherish his days at Vicarage Road.

At the age of 38 he marshalled Watford’s defence and was one of a few shining lights in a tumultuous campaign in Hertfordshire. Gianluca Vialli’s men began the season with the ambition of sealing promotion but had to content themselves with a disappointing 14th place finish. He now hopes the club can succeed this season where it failed when he was there and bounce straight back to the Premier League.

Galli, who has still an emotional connection with Watford nearly 20 years after he left, just before the start of the World Cup 2002, added: “I love London, I have always been a fan of English football. It was like a dream to play in England at the age of 38 under Vialli. Vicarage Road will always have a special place in my heart. This season they have good chances of gaining promotion. The club built a side good enough to go up and the hierarchy deserves credit. I still follow the club regularly. I wish Watford Football Club all the best for the future.”