The pressure of being labelled as the next Paolo Maldini can be strenuous on any soul, but Francesco Coco for a moment looked like he might have been the replacement for the legendary left-back for both club and country. When the adventurous full-back, who also had the capabilities to play in midfield, broke onto the scene in the mid 90’s, Milan looked to have the heir apparent to the iconic captain.
Coco moved to the province of Legnano, Milan, at the age of three, and after a few years in Como’s academy playing as a striker, was signed by Milan. When making his debut against Padova in 1995, goalscorer and Captain Francesco Baresi dedicated his winning goal to Coco, hoping to bless his new career. Sicilian born Coco was not like most traditional full backs. Despite playing on the left, his preferred foot was his right which played favourably into his hands when facing an inside forward, but not much so when pushing up-field. Known for his pace, physicality, determination and stamina, Coco also had the ability to cross with both feet which left the Milanisti excited about how good he could become.
Loan spells to Vicenza (hampered by a knee injury) and Torino allowed the Sicilian to gain valuable match experience and upon his return in 2000 he made his Azzurri debut in the 3-0 win against Romania. After this successful 2000/01 campaign he was given the surprise opportunity to play for Barcelona, thus becoming the first Italian to play for the Blaugrana. He impressed the Catalans with his performance in the 2-0 win at the San Siro the previous season where he scored the first and assisted Oliver Bierhoff for the second. Fatih Terim had no reluctance in letting him move to Spain on loan, with the Turk preferring Serginho ahead of the Italian.