The three players in question were Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rikaard. Rikaard and Gullit had something in common as they were both half Dutch and half Surinamese, giving them a striking dark skinned appearance with dark curly locks. Strangely enough before arriving at Milan, the Dutch trio rarely played together, although Rijkaard and Van Basten were on Ajax Amsterdam’s books at the same time. Ruud Gullit made his way to Milan from PSV Eindhoven, after having played beforehand for a couple of minor Dutch clubs.
It was Milan chairman Sylvia Berlusconi who saw the potential in the Dutch trio and brought them to Milan for the 1987-88 seasons, raising a few eyebrows in the process. Yet the three players made an instant impact. Rikaard could either play in defense or defensive midfield, Gullit was a gifted and flight of foot attacking midfielder and Van Basten was a classic goal scorer, who could strike equally well with both feet as well as being very strong in the air. Milan won the Milan won their first Italian Championship (Scudetto) for eight years, with Rikaard and Gullit both making valuable contributions, However van Basten only donned the red and black soccer uniform of AC Milan for just eleven games, being constantly troubled by an ankle injury. An injury that would later return and end his career prematurely.
As the 1988/89 season began there was an air of optimism around Milan that this team was about to do great things, and the attractive football and performances in domestic tournaments certainly proved that. However the team were stuttering badly in Europe and despite some really weak performances made it to the semi- final against a very strong Real Madrid It was expected that the free scoring Hugo Sanchez and his team mates would rapidly end Milan’s interest in the tournament for that season. It certainly seemed that way in the first leg at the Bernabeu when Sanchez put the Real into the lead in the first half. However Rijkaard and Carlo Ancelotti controlled and marshaled the Milan defence as real mounted wave after wave of attacks. The giant stadium was hushed into silence as Milan scored a fluke equalizer against the run of the play, as a header from Van Basten hit the bar and rebounded off the back of goalkeeper Buoy into the net.
The skeptics said that real would still take the second leg in San Siro. They were forced to eat their words as Milan’s domestic form eventually came together on the European stage and the Spanish champions fell to one of their heaviest defeats in Europe. It was Carlo Ancelotti of all people who gave Milan the lead with a powerful drive from 30 yards. Not long after Frank Rijkaard headed home the second, and another headed goal from Gullit sent Milan in at half time leading 3-0. A few minutes into the second half signs of the almost telepathic understanding that had built up between the Dutch trio in the less than two seasons they had played together was stamped in history, as Gullit and Rijkaard combined to lay the ball on plate to Van Basten who clinically rammed the ball into the Real net. The stadium rose as one to celebrate this remarkable group of footballers. Local Donadoni put the icing on the cake of a remarkable victory, and as the news broke that Milan were to meet relative underdogs Steaua Bucharest in the final to be played in Barcelona, the feeling was that the trophy was theirs for the taking.
Estimates are that more than eighty thousand Milan supporters made their way to the Camp Nou to see their beloved team play in the final. Although Steaua were the underdogs, they had won the European cup three years previously and superbly marshaled by the superbly talented Gheorghe Hagi they were still worth taking seriously. However as the game got under way, it soon became obvious that this was a great football team, and a victory earned by playing in style was inevitable. The first goal was not long in coming as a powerful shot from Van Basten cross shot was only parried the Steaua goalkeeper and Gullit was on the spot to prod home the rebound.
Half way through the first half a Milan corner was cleared headed home by Van Basten and with seven minutes to go till half time, Gullit scored his second of the night as he crashed a volley into the roof of the net to make it 3-0 and virtually closing the match as a contest. Within a minute of the second half kicking off, goal number four was already being recorded, this time with Van Basten strolling onto yet another Rijkaard inch perfect pass to steer the ball home. Milan undoubtedly took their foot off the gas to prevent the game Steaua team unnecessary punishment, with the remaining highlight being Ruud Gullit’s substitution with half an hour still on the clock, a sign of Milan’s total supremacy on the park. As legendary captain Franco Baresi with his red/black soccer uniform lifted the European it marked the most comprehensive win in a European Cup final since 1974, and the day that three soccer legends were born.