Full Name: Paolo Cesare Maldini
Date of Birth: 26/6/1968
Born on the 26th of June 1968, Paulo Maldini is the son of Cesare Maldini, an ex-AC Milan player who captained his team to victory in the European Cup finals in 1963, and went on to manage the national team. Despite his father’s links to AC Milan, as a youngster, Paulo was a fan of Turin team Juventus, home of his hero Roberto Bettega. However, after showing promise in the left-wing position, he was able to secure a place in the AC Milan youth programme (possibly through the influence of his father).
In January 1985, the Milan first team was plagued with injury, and for a match against Udine, then manager Nils Lidholm decided to give 16-year old Maldini a spot on the substitutes' bench. When Sergio Battistini got injured and came off at half-time, Maldini got the shout and made his first appearance for the club that was to become such a huge part of his life and identity.
Although the teenager made no further appearances that season, he developed quickly, and found himself first choice in the left back position in the following 1985-86 season. England international, Ray Wilkins, was one of the club’s senior defenders at the time, and it was partly because of his injury that Maldini found himself on the pitch. The youngster made a very good first impression on Wilkins, who said of him; "You could have stuck him in any position. As soon as I saw him I thought, my God, this boy's got everything. He was 16 years old, 6ft 1in tall, quick and strong, with two good feet. And he was in love with football, which you can still see today. He's also stayed the same thoroughly decent bloke, a gentleman as well as an outstanding player."
His international career began with the Italian under-21 squad in the 1986-87 season, graduating to the main squad in 1988. His first game was under Azeglio Vicini in Split against Yugoslavia. He distinguished himself, and became a fixture in the ‘Azzuri’ defence until his retirement from international football in 2002.
During his 16 year tenure as an international, he became Italy’s most capped player, representing his country 126 times. One of the big disappointments of Maldini’s otherwise extraordinarily high-achieving career, was the lack of major international silverware. Italy finished runner-up in the 1994 USA FIFA World Cup, and in third place in the 1990 competition. He was also in the side that finished second in Euro 2000.
Italy’s post-Maldini triumph in the 2006 FIFA World Cup must have been a bittersweet experience for the retiree. Like the rest of Italy, he was surely ecstatic to see his countrymen lifting the Jules Rimet trophy, but we could forgive him for feeling slightly envious of some of his ex-team mates, basking in the glory of the most coveted trophy in football (perhaps sport), that had eluded him despite two near successes.
However, Maldini could console himself easily enough by glancing up at his mantelpiece and reminding himself of the incredible success he has had (and still enjoys) for his club. He has won the Serie A 7 times, and the Italian Super Cup 5 times between 1988 and 2005, making Milan the most successful team in the recent history of the Serie A. He also jointly holds the record for 8 appearances in Champions League (formerly European Cup) finals with Francesco Gento, although Maldini has 5 winner’s medals to Gento’s 6.
In the 2005 final against Liverpool FC, Maldini scored the fastest ever goal in a European Cup final, after only 51 seconds. He also became the oldest player ever to score in the final. He also holds the record for most appearances in the Serie A, Italy’s premier league, with over 600 appearances and counting. His total for all competitions at the end of the 2006/07 season was 846. Although he has publicly stated his desire to achieve 1000 appearances in a red and black shirt, this seems unlikely as he currently plans to retire at the end of the 2007/08 season.
Throughout his 23 seasons at Milan, Maldini has only missed a handful of matches, making more than 25 appearances every year except 2001-02, when he suffered knee problems. These have never completely disappeared, but by moving into a less movement intensive role in central defence and enjoying the attentions of the best physicians in Italy, he has managed to stay fit and competitive.
A 38 year-old Maldini is now a serious contender for the greatest defender of all time. Dignified and hugely respected, he is the paragon of a professional sportsman. He is one of the rare breed of footballers that looks completely at home on a football pitch. His vision and ability to read the game are second to none, allowing him to position himself so well that despite his lack of pace and advanced years, attacking players still fear the prospect of facing a defence with Maldini at its centre.
He also possesses an extraordinary capacity for inspiring and organising his team mates and co-defenders. His command of the game is such that opponents find themselves playing the game at the pace Maldini sets, which generally is very slow. The inability of faster English teams to cope with the Maldini Effect is well documented.
Perhaps the best season of Maldini’s career was 93/94, when he played in the side winning the European Cup and was runner-up in the FIFA World Cup finals, losing out to Brazil on penalties. This season saw him winning the prestigious World Soccer player of the year award - the first defender to do so. He said of the award; "It's a great honour for me to know that so many people consider me so highly. It's a particular matter of pride because defenders generally receive so much less attention from fans and the media than goal scorers. We are more in the engine room rather than taking the glory.”
One wonders whether if a young Maldini had decided to apply his skills in the other half of the pitch rather than defensively, we would be calling him a contender for best player of all time rather than best defender of all time.
- Included in the FIFA 100
- Included in the FIFA World Cup Team of the Tournament: 1994
- Included in the UEFA European Championship Team of the Tournament: 1996, 2000
- Serie A Defender of the Year: 2004
- UEFA Champions League Best Defender: 2007
- UEFA Champions League Final Man of the Match: 2003
- Included in the UEFA Team of the Year: 2003, 2005
- Under-21 European Footballer of the Year: 1989
- Included in the FIFPro World XI: 2005
- World Soccer World Player of the Year: 1994
- Named 21st in World Soccer’s 100 Greatest Players of the 20th Century
- FIFA World Player of the Year (2nd place): 1995
- Ballon d'Or (3rd place): 1994, 2003
- Onze d'Or (3rd place): 1995
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