Milan captain Paolo Maldini takes his final bow at the Stadio Franchi in Florence after 902 appearances for the Rossoneri, ending a remarkable career that spanned nearly a quarter of a century.
It all started in Udine…
5. The Debut
January 20, 1985 - Udinese v Milan (1-1) “Do you want to play on the left or on the right?” Swedish coach Nils Liedholm asked a 16-year-old Maldini during the interval of the game with the Zebrette at the Stadio Friuli. “You decide,” replied Paolo. ‘The Baron’ put him on the right flank, replacing Sergio Battistini, and a star was born.
4. The Double
October 2, 2005 - Milan v Reggina (2-1) It may seem strange to find a mid-autumn Serie A game in this list, but Maldini netted his only career brace on that rainy day. The captain had not scored in the league for over three years, but bagged two goals in just 20 minutes at San Siro.
He opened the scoring after collecting a pass outside the penalty box and skipping past Giacomo Tedesco to beat goalkeeper Nicola Pavarini with a precise, angled drive, and then doubled the lead with a towering header from Rui Costa’s corner.
3. The First Scudetto
May 15, 1988 - Como v Milan (1-1) Milan claimed the Serie A title for the first time since 1978-79 after a neck-and-neck race with Diego Maradona’s Napoli.
The Partenopei had a four-point lead with just five games left to play, but the Rossoneri claimed impressive wins over Roma and Inter before conquering the San Paolo on May 1 to go top of the table. Two draws in the final games of the season sealed the trophy and Maldini’s first ever silverware.
2. The Barca Demolition
May 18, 1994 - Milan v Barcelona (4-0) Fabio Capello’s Milan reached the final of the European Cup for the second year on the trot, aiming to erase memories of the dismal defeat by Marseille in Munich. But the Diavoli came up against a formidable Barcelona side lead by Johan Cruijff, who wrote off his “prosaic” opponents prior to the Athens showdown.
The Dutchman was made to eat his words. Milan produced a masterclass performance, with the makeshift central defensive pairing of Maldini and Filippo Galli superbly deputizing for captain Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurta. A Daniele Massaro brace and goals from Dejan Savicevic and Marcel Desailly saw the Rossoneri triumph in Europe’s premier club competition for the fifth time in their history.
1. The Last Champions League
May 23, 2007 - Milan v Liverpool (2-1) Maldini lifted the trophy for the second time as captain and for the fifth time in his career at the age of 38 after a 2-1 victory against Liverpool in Athens. Filippo Inzaghi scored a double to get revenge on the Reds for the incredible 2005 shoot-out loss in Istanbul.
“We have been the best team in Italy, Europe and the world over the past 20 years and the cycle has not ended yet,” said Paolo after hoisting the cup aloft at the Olympic Stadium. Indeed, it was not over yet and ‘Dragonheart’ went on to conquer the world for one last time seven months later.
Vince Masiello, Goal.com