Monday, June 1, 2009

Maldini the Magnificent bows out victorious

A parting salute to Paolo Maldini, who finally hung up his AC Milan boots today aged almost 41 after a quarter century at the top. The legendary left-back left the field to a standing ovation as his beloved Rossoneri topped Fiorentina 2-0 in Florence.

A cornerstone of world football disappears after an astonishing story: He first played for Milan aged 16 in 1985 and went on to win five European Cups and seven Serie A titles as well as the appearance records for Serie A and Italy, for whom he made 126 appearances. Maldini wore the azzurro in four World Cup finals though was unlucky not to be picked for Italy's victorious campaign in 2006 -the following year he was voted the best defender in the UEFA Champions League.

The middle rung in a dynasty, Paolo took on the baton for club and country from father Cesare, and has passed it on to his 12-year old son Christian, in the Milan youth system.

One sad note was the unfurling of antagonistic banners at his farewell game at the San Siro last week, referring to his criticism of Milan fans earlier this season.

"On the pitch you have been an infinite champion but you have lacked the respect of those that have made you rich", said one; "Our deepest thanks from those you defined as mercenaries", proclaimed another, while a large banner deliberately honoured his predecessor Franco Baresi. But the carping of a few cannot tarnish Maldini's reputation as a model professional on and off the field and a true soccer great.

Being a man at the back, Maldini was never likely to win the Ballon d'Or or FIFA World Player of the Year award, but prestigious World Soccer magazine did elect him their World Player of the Year in 1994. Too often we forget defenders when naming our favourites. Maldini was a testament to his position and how criminally overlooked great players like him are.

He left the field for the last time today with his reputation as one of the legendary defenders of all time secure. Only a true great could spend a quarter of a century racking up over 900 appearances for one of the world's best teams.

Just imagine entering your fifth decade still playing at the top of the tree.

Addio Paolo.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

World Soccer News

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