When it comes to ranking the greatest defenders of all time, Paolo Maldini is up there with the best there ever was. His calibre is proven in the European Cup and the Champions League, while the longevity of his career is a direct result of his intelligent defending and love for AC Milan, where he stayed for the entirety of his career.
His ability to bounce back is somewhat akin to a comic book villain, who just refuses to give up no matter how many times he’s foiled by his opposition. The difference is that Maldini won it all, while the villains tend to come off second best more often than not… !! The point is, he never wavered despite the lean times, and he rolled back the years to claim the last of his Champions League titles a full decade after the previous win.
The son of the first Rossoneri captain to lift the European Cup, Paolo Maldini joined Milan’s youth system in 1978, beginning what would be a 30-year career at the club. He spent all 24 seasons of his senior career at AC Milan where he won the following : 7 Scudettos , 5 Champions Leagues, 5 Super Cups, 2 Intercontinental Cups, the FIFA Club World Cup and the Coppa Italia.
It’s no secret that Maldini is a one-club man but when measured next to the likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes or Jamie Carragher, the Italian is a god among great men. Over the course of 24 years and 132 days (the longest anyone has ever played for Milan), Maldini made 902 appearances the most any player has ever made for Milan, an achievement that is unlikely to matched any time soon, if ever.
Having won the Champions League five times, across three different decades, Maldini played his fair share of matches in the illustrious competition. The Italian is one of just 31 players to have gone beyond the century mark in Europe, playing 116 games to be precise. If you want to include his participation in the old UEFA Cup as well, then it will take his tally to 168 games, this highest for any player in Europe ever.
Being a football fan can often bring you a range of emotions that rarely come with any other sport. Despair, adulation, sorrow and happiness are all common but seldom do we truly feel humbled. Such an experience can come after witnessing a thrilling game or an awe-inspiring goal but occasionally individuals manage to conjure moments throughout their career which leave you breathless. Paolo Maldini was one of them…
What makes Maldini one of all time greats was his style of play. He was the most elegant defender that we have ever seen because he relied on his technique and anticipation – not physical intimidation – to dominate opposing wingers.
Maldini was a left back that was naturally right footed, a defender who could attack just as well, tough but always fair, more intelligent than aggressive, humble in victory and always magnanimous in defeat. Maldini was sheer class personified, both on and off the pitch.
At just 21, Maldini was a two-time winner and even then, nobody would have guessed that he would continue to perform regularly at such a high level for another two decades. In a run stretching between 1991 and 1993, Milan went an incredible 58 league games without defeat – a run that comprised the entire title-winning 1992/93 season – during which time they conceded just 21 goals.
His final season came in 2008-09, but there was still enough talent left to extract 30 league appearances during his swansong. Internazionale may have finished top, but Milan managed to take the third Champions League spot after finishing level on points with Juventus in second.
A career panned across the likes of Platini and Maradona to Zidane, Ronaldo, Henry to the present-greats like Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi… He has seen them all and stopped them all !!
He’s rightfully seen as a legend in world football, and, in a league mired by corruption, he was seen as a beacon of class, both on and off the pitch.
And do you want to hear something crazy ? He never picked up a single red card in any competitive match during his 24 years playing as a professional.