The Scandinavian Trinity
Messi, Suarez and Neymar have made the usage of the obsolete MSN famous. The trio have won a lot of titles playing together and have set a high benchmark for their successors. Their rivals from Real Madrid Benzema, Bale and Cristiano also known as BBC haven’t been too shabby either. They have won two Champions League titles after some remarkable showings. But, today I’m going to throw light upon a trio who would go on to leave a lasting impact on the Milan fans: Gre-No-Li.
Gunnar Gren (Gre), Gunnar Nordahl (No) and Nils Liedholm(Li) were three of Sweden’s finest players to have graced the Italian game. The trio shot to prominence after leading Sweden to an Olympic gold medal in 1948. The Rossoneri were quick to sign Nordahl in January 1949. Gren and Liedholm joined Nordahl in September 1949. They won the Scudetto during their time at Milan which remains their highest achievement at club level.
Gunnar Gren was the least known of the three. However, the creative playmaker’s contributions are not any less compared to his compatriots despite spending only four seasons at Milan. He smashed in 38 goals in 133 appearances in spite of being a mid-fielder and even managed the team for a brief period while playing in 1952. He assisted a lot of goals for Nordahl and was rightly called ‘Il Professore’ for his technical abilities and sheer intelligence on the pitch. He went on to play for Fiorentina after leaving Milan in 1953.
Nordahl was a forward and was nicknamed ‘Il Pompierone’, which means ‘The Big Fireman’ in Italian. He was as prolific as they came and scored a staggering 210 goals for AC Milan in just 257 matches. The forward was a huge contributor for the Rossoneri and his free scoring ability helped Milan win two titles in 1951 and 1955 respectively. He moved on from Milan to play for Roma in 1956 where he scored 15 more goals. Such was his impact that when Milan’s legendary sharpshooter Shevchenko scored his hundredth goal for them, some supporters downplayed it saying that he was nowhere near ‘Il Pompierone’ until he can double that number and add another 26 goals to it.
Nils Liedholm stayed for a longer time with the Rossoneri than his Swedish team-mates. A creator just like Gren, he played a crucial role by scoring 89 goals and providing innumerable assists to Nordahl and others in his 12 year stint at Milan. His exceptional style of play, wide range of passing and incredible vision made him one of the best Swedish players of all time. He won two more Scudetti than the other two taking his total count of titles in Italy to four. Nothing sums up his ability than the incident where the supporters gave him a standing ovation for ten minutes after he misplaced a pass for the first time in Milan after an astonishing two years from the time he joined the club. No wonder he was aptly nicknamed ‘The Star of the North’.
The 1949-50 season was the first one the three of them played together for Milan. The team failed to finish on the top of the podium and had to settle for a runner up spot in the first season. But there were lots of things that Milan could take heart from that season. They scored a massive 118 goals in 38 outings, a staggering 36 goals above eventual champions Juventus’ tally. But, more importantly, it marked the beginning of Gre-No-Li. They just showed a taste of what was to come next season. In the 1950-51 season, Milan went on to pinch the Scudetto from bitter rivals Inter who were having a great season themselves. The victory was sweeter as it was the first title in 44 years for the San Siro side. Nordahl scored 35 goals to help their cause. Milan had good performances in the next few seasons but it was not until 1955 did they manage their next title. By then, Gren had left Milan. Nordahl also left Milan in 1958, but Liedholm stayed until 1961 and went on to win a couple more Scudettos during that time.
You could be forgiven for thinking that their contribution to Milan was over. Liedholm managed Milan on three separate occasions: 1963-1966, 1977-1979 and 1984-1987. In 1979, he led them to a significant Scudetto title: the tenth one. In Italy, it was traditional for teams to have a golden star etched on to their uniforms for every ten Scudetti won. Under the guidance of Liedholm, they won their first star. They are yet to add on a star after this.
On the international scene, after they won the Olympic medal, it was all downhill for the trio. The move to Milan, while a successful one, was also a poisoned gift of sorts. The Swedish FA had a ban on professionals playing for the national side. This was a perplexing rule which went on to cost them a lot of potential honours. The Swedish contingent arrived at the 1950 world cup without the services of Gre-No-Li. The team managed a third place finish despite this. But, one could only wonder if Sweden let the world cup through their fingers by not including the trio. Sweden failed to qualify for the 1954 world cup. By the time the 1958 world cup had started, the Swedish FA had to overturn the rule. This was a little late for Nordahl as he had retired but Liedholm and Gren, veterans in their mid-thirties had a chance to win a world cup on their home soil. The Swedes went to the final of the world cup after beating champions West Germany in the semi-finals. It looked like Gren and Liedholm were going to bow out when they were standing on top of the world, but one 17 year old boy named Pele scored a brace to help the Selecao beat the Swedes and win the world cup.
The trinity’s contribution to Milan, Sweden and football, to be honest, is something that can never be forgotten. As I'm sitting here, typing this, I can only wonder how badly Milan need a 'Gre-No-Li' now.