Italian football rightly celebrates the art of defending more than other countries, largely due to the contribution of Paolo Maldini. He was by no means the first iconic defender to come out of Italy, but his achievements over a 25 year spell with his beloved Milan mean that his name will glamorise defending for generations to come.
A native of Milan, and the son of Cesare Maldini, a Serie A legend in his own right, the expectations were huge on young Paolo when he débuted for the Rossoneri after progressing through their youth system. He would go on to have a career that lasted 25 seasons in the red and black of Milan before retiring at the age of 40 at the end of the 2008/09 campaign. During his quarter-century with the club, Maldini led them to seven Serie A titles, five Champions League trophies, five Italian Super Cups, five European Super Cups, two World Club Championships, and a Coppa Italia. But maybe more importantly than the silverware that he won, Maldini has become one of the famous faces in football for his loyalty and sportsmanship on the pitch.
Milan circa 1992
Maldini was a natural-born leader, and after playing his first match at the age of 16, it was clear he had the ability to be the cornerstone of Milan for many years. It was not long before he was made Milan’s captain – following in his father’s footsteps – and also skippered the Italian national team for the majority of his 126 caps. Maldini was a full Italian international for 14 years, from 1988 to 2002, a run that included four World Cup participations. UEFA recognised Il Capitano’s contribution to the game when his career was finally winding down, naming him the UEFA Club Defender of the Year at the age of 39.
In Maldini’s second season with Milan, still 16 years old, he was in the starting eleven. His first silverware came a few years later, as Milan won the Scudetto in 1987/88, before repeating the act in 1991/92. The latter achievement was particularly significant as Milan went the season unbeaten, and Maldini was part of arguably the greatest defence of all time. He was at left-back, and soon to become the best player in the world in that position, and was alongside Mauro Tassotti, Alessandro Costacurta and Franco Baresi.
By 1994, Maldini’s Milan had won three Champions League trophies, and the Italian national team reached the final of the World Cup. He was honoured with the World Player of the Year award from FIFA, an accolade that the typically modest Milanese said he did not deserve, and should have gone to his team-mate Baresi.
Such was Maldini’s elegance and modesty, that when the FIGC offered him the chance to play in a specially-arranged friendly to signal the end of the career and act as a nationwide testimonial match, he declined. He simply never craved, nor needed, the attention. He played football because of a refreshing love for the game, and a love for his one and only club. His No3 shirt is now retired, only to be worn if one of Maldini’s sons plays for Milan. Despite the recent retirement of Il Capitano, his legacy lives on in Milan through his children, and his legacy in the worldwide game lives on because he is the symbol of loyalty towards one club.
Name – Paolo Maldini
Age (D.O.B) – 42 (26/6/1968)
Position – Centre-back and Left-back
Clubs (Appearances/Goals) – Milan (647/29)
Club level honours – Serie A (1988, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2004); Coppa Italia (2003); Italian Super Cup (1988, 1992, 1993, 1994, 2004); European Cup (1989, 1990, 1994, 2003, 2007); Intercontinental Cup (1989, 1990); Club World Cup (2007); UEFA Super Cup (1989, 1990, 1994, 2003, 2007)
Nationality – Italian
Caps/goals – 126/7
Lessons in Calcio