Il Capitano

The series of our writers’ favourite players never to have played for the clubs they support continues with Alan Finn’s offering of legendary AC Milan defender Paolo Maldini.

In my years watching football, I have grown up admiring many different players. Arsenal striker Dennis Bergkamp, Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, then Liverpool striker Michael Owen, former Real Madrid goal machine Raúl, but today I am going to talk about one of Serie A’s greatest centre-backs of all time. For those of you unfamiliar with Italian nicknames as is the reference in the article title, I am of course talking about AC Milan legend Paolo Maldini.

Now don’t get me wrong, growing up watching Liverpool I was a big fan of Sami Hyypia and Jamie Carragher at the back, but I’d have loved to have seen Maldini line out in the famous red kit, and it goes without saying really it would’ve been like a dream come true seeing him tog out in The Showgrounds for Sligo Rovers!

Maldini made his first appearance for Milan on the 20th January 1985 as fresh faced 16 year old in what was his only appearance of the season. The following year he won the first of his seven Serie A titles, but it wasn’t until the 1991-92 season when his defensive qualities were garnering attention all over Europe as he was part of the unbeaten side that won the title. He wasn’t the only big name at the back for the club in those days however. In that unbeaten season he was joined by Franco Baresi, Alessandro Costacurta and Mauro Tasotti, one of the most formidable defences in the history of football.

In 1994, his outstanding form earned him the accolade of World Player of the Year award in World Soccer magazine after winning his third Champions League title and reaching the World Cup Final with Italy. In his acceptance speech, Paulo touched on how defenders don’t normally get such awards. “a particular matter of pride because defenders generally receive so much less attention from fans and the media than goalscorers. We are more in the engine room rather than taking the glory.” He then singled out Baresi as a player who “really deserved to receive the sort of award I have received.”

Milan enjoyed incredible success on both a domestic and European front in the 90s, boasting five Serie A titles, three Italian Super Cups, two European Cups, two European Super Cups and one Intercontinental Cup, and Maldini was a major driving force behind much of this dominance during this period.

As we entered the ’00s, Milan were very much a European powerhouse. But in 2002 a new centre-back partnership was struck up involving Maldini, this time he partnered the newly arrived Alessandro Nesta. Their first season together saw them land the Italian Cup and European Champions League. The European success was of particular significance to Paolo as it was the first time a father and son captained the same team to a European title. His father Cesare was the skipper in the 1963 Final.

The flourishing partnership between Maldini and Nesta played a major role in delivering more success the following season as they landed a European Super Cup, the League title and the Italian Super Cup.

Although there was no success for them in the 2004-05 season, AC Milan and Liverpool played which was arguably the greatest European Final of all time, that game which saw Liverpool come back from a 3-0 half-time deficit to win on penalties. Although Maldini left empty handed, he did get on the score sheet when he broke the deadlock inside the first minute. I’m sure he also proud to have been part of such an epic European encounter.

Two seasons later, Milan didn’t fail on second time of asking as they triumphed over Liverpool in the 2007 final in Athens, this also proved to be the last trophy he lifted as captain as he missed out on the European Super Cup victory over Sevilla through injury.

After being in and out of the team and delaying his retirement already, Il Capitano finally decided to call it a day on 31 March 2009, bringing the curtain down on a marvelous 25 year career with one club where he made over 900 appearances and today still ranks as the most capped Italian player of All Time.

Although the 43-year-old has so far stuck by his comments that he doesn’t want to go into coaching, the Maldini name could carry on in football through another generation, as his sons Christian and Daniel are both on the books for AC Milan and are considered two of the brightest talents in the youth set up.

I’m sure it is something many will argue, but for me Paolo Maldini is one of the greatest centre-backs in the history of Italian football and probably the greatest of his generation, not just in his own country but in the world, especially during that highly successful decade of the 90s.


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