Nils Liedholm

Nils Erik Liedholm (pronounced [ˈnɪlːs ˈlîːdhɔlm]; 8 October 1922 – 5 November 2007)[2][3] was a Swedish football midfielder and coach. Il Barone (The Baron), as he is affectionately known in Italy, was renowned for being part of the Swedish "Gre-No-Li" trio of strikers along with Gunnar Gren and Gunnar Nordahl at A.C. Milan and the Swedish national team, with which he achieved notable success throughout his career. Liedholm was an intelligent offensive playmaker who was renowned for his excellent range of passing and precise crossing ability throughout his career, as well as his vision, tactical awareness, control, class, and his elegant style of play; he is regarded as one of Milan's and Sweden's greatest ever players,[4] and considered one of the best players of the post-war era.[5] As a coach, he was in charge of several teams in Italy, managing for nearly four decades, and was known for using a zonal marking system; he is regarded as one of the most successful managers in Italian football history.[6] At the end of the 20th century Liedholm was voted the best Swedish player of the millennium by the readers of Sweden's largest newspaper, Aftonbladet.

Nils Liedholm
Liedholm with Milan c. 1955
Personal information
Full name Nils Erik Liedholm
Date of birth (1922-10-08)8 October 1922
Place of birth Valdemarsvik, Sweden
Date of death 5 November 2007(2007-11-05) (aged 85)
Place of death Cuccaro Monferrato, Italy
Height 1.83 m (6 ft 0 in)[1]
Position(s) Attacking midfielder
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1938–1943 Valdemarsviks IF
1943–1946 IK Sleipner 60 (24)
1946–1949 IFK Norrköping 48 (22)
1949–1961 Milan 359 (81)
National team
1947–1958 Sweden 23 (12)
Teams managed
1961–1963 Milan (assistant coach)
1963–1966 Milan
1966–1968 Verona
1968–1969 Monza
1969–1971 Varese
1971–1973 Fiorentina
1973–1977 A.S. Roma
1977–1979 A.C. Milan
1979–1984 A.S. Roma
1984–1987 A.C. Milan
1987–1989 A.S. Roma
1992 Verona
1996 A.S. Roma
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only
The A.C. Milan squad for the 1957–58 season. From left to right, standing: Reina, Galli, Fontana, Soldan, Lorenzo Buffon, Nils Liedholm, Juan Alberto Schiaffino, Radice, Bean; crouched: Beraldo, Grillo, Mariani, Cesare Maldini, Bergamaschi, Zannier, Francesco Zagatti, Cucchiaroni.

Club career

Liedholm joined his first club, Valdemarsviks IF, in 1938. In 1942 he joined IK Sleipner and in 1946 moved to IFK Norrköping, a bigger Swedish club with whom he won two Swedish league titles. During his time with Norrköping, he also earned 18 caps for the Swedish national team, winning the gold medal at the 1948 Summer Olympics. This eventually gave him the chance to join Milan in 1949. He made his Serie A debut on 11 September 1949 in a 3–1 win against Sampdoria. In his first season with Milan, the midfielder played 37 games and scored 18 goals. In 1951, Liedholm won the first of his four scudetto titles. Another three titles followed in 1955, 1957 and 1959. A player with a club that was having the best spell of its life up to that point, Liedholm also won the Latin Cup in 1951 and 1956 and was captain of Milan in the 1958 European Cup Final against Real Madrid, losing 2–3 (after extra time). It is said that Real Madrid great Alfredo Di Stefano who, felt despite victory knew it was a match Milan could have won. Asking Liedholm to exchange shirts, Liedholm said to him "Keep it. That won't matter. The only thing that will be remembered from this match down the years is that Real Madrid won".

Famous for his passing abilities and tactical awareness, Liedholm was the creator of many of Gunnar Nordahl's goals. According to legend, it took two years playing for Milan until Liedholm misplaced his first pass at the San Siro, the rarity prompting a five-minute ovation from the home crowd.[1][7]

Liedholm was also one of the first players to realise the importance of fitness to a good performance. Consequently, he put in many more hours of training than other players, saying himself that he did the 100 metres, 3000 metres, javelin, shot put and high jump twice a week.[1] His club career would continue until he was almost 40.

International career

Having helped Sweden win the gold medal in the 1948 Olympic tournament, Liedholm was the captain of the national squad at the 1958 World Cup, celebrated in his home country. Aged almost 36, he helped Sweden to reach the World Cup final, where the team lost out to a Brazil side that included Didi and 17-year-old Pelé. Liedholm scored the opening goal of the final, which makes him the oldest player to score in a World Cup Final; however, Brazil came back and won the match 5–2.

Coaching career

After he retired from playing, Liedholm enjoyed some time in the backrooms at Milan, before getting promotion for both Verona and then Varese. This brought him to the attention of Fiorentina and then Milan, where he finally took control of the first team. He guided them to their tenth league title in 1979 before moving on to become the manager of Roma. Leading talents such as Paulo Roberto Falcão and Bruno Conti, he took them to their second league title ever in 1983 using the zonal marking system, which was unusual in Italy at the time. A year later, his Roma side lost on penalties to Liverpool in the European Cup Final. He also won the Coppa Italia three times with Roma, in 1980, 1981 and 1984.

As well as saying that the modern game is much more frantic and fast-paced than when he was involved, Liedholm, always a professional, also observed that "they [players] do not do much to avoid fouling players... It is too easy to stop a player by fouling him. Proper training teaches you how to win the ball without committing a foul, which is much more difficult."[1]

After leaving the game (but still living in Italy), Liedholm ran a vineyard together with his son Carlo. He died on 5 November 2007 in his home in Cuccaro Monferrato, Province of Alessandria.[2]

Style of management

As a manager, Liedholm was known for implementing a defensive system based on zonal marking, and for his ability to instruct his players on his footballing philosophy. He preferred teams made up of players with good technical skills, as his interpretation of the game was not based on prevention or breaking down the opposition, but on finding a system which best highlighted the individual skills of his players.[8][9]

Career statistics


Club Season League Cup Europe Other Total
Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
Milan 1949–1950 3718------3718
1950–1951 3113----203313
1951–1952 389------389
1952–1953 306----21327
1953–1954 3110------3110
1954–1955 286----11297
1955–1956 311--6020391
1956–1957 264----21285
1957–1958 247--82--329
1958–1959 30121----322
1959–1960 283--4032355
1960–1961 2531---2-283
Total 359813118214539489

*European competitions include the UEFA Champions League

*Other competitions include the Latin Cup & Amicizia Cup



IFK Norrköping




Other sports

He also was a bandy player in Valdemarsvik and the district team of Östergötland when he was young. He was an honorary chairman of the Italian Bandy Federation.[11]


  1. "Golden Great: Nils Liedholm". Football Italia. June 2001. Archived from the original on 13 August 2007. Retrieved 6 November 2007.
  2. "Addio al Barone Liedholm" (in Italian). La Gazzetta dello Sport. 5 November 2007. Retrieved 5 November 2007.
  3. Nils Liedholm.
  4. "A.C. Milan Hall of Fame: Nils Niedholm" (in Italian). A.C. Milan. Retrieved 9 December 2014.
  5. "Nils Liedholm". The Telegraph. Retrieved 14 March 2016.
  6. Glanville, Brian (6 November 2007). "Nils Liedholm". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 February 2015.
  7. "Greatest players". (unofficial IFK Norrköping fansite). Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 6 November 2007.
  8. "Carlo Ancelotti si confessa: "Mai avuto feeling con la città"" (in Italian). La Repubblica. 19 March 2009. Retrieved 12 May 2017.
  9. "Ancelotti a cuore aperto "E non-dite che sono buono"" (in Italian). La Repubblica. 19 March 2009. Retrieved 12 May 2017.
  10. "Italian football Hall of Fame to induct ten new stars". 25 October 2016. Retrieved 25 October 2016.
  11. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2 October 2009. Retrieved 6 November 2009.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)