Paolo Maldini is one of the greatest defenders to have ever played football and spent his full career at one club.
To play over 900 times for a team like AC Milan and over 100 times for Italy just shows how talented Maldini was. He was known for his positional sense and his reading of the game which led him to being labelled as the defender that doesn’t need to tackle.
Maldini made his debut on the 20th January 1985 against Udinese at the age of 16. In the following campaign he became a regular and was handed the number three shirt, which his father Cesare had also worn. With a promising start titles came soon after and the 1987-88 season marked his first Serie A title and this was down to Maldini and his fellow defenders as they conceded 14 goals Over the next two seasons, his form translated to European football as Milan won the European Cup back to back.
In the early 90s Milan became known as The Invincibles as they went the whole 1991-92 season unbeaten and a record 58 games without losing. They not only won three consecutive titles but they also reached three consecutive Champions League finals, winning one of them against Barcelona.
The club went through a transitional period after Fabio Capello left and several of the more experienced members of the squad moved on. But Maldini was still showing his ability and he was rewarded by being made Milan captain . After he galvanised the squad, he led them to another Serie A title in the 1998-99 season.
It wasn’t until Carlo Ancelotti was named manager that they finally began to dominate in Europe again with Maldini lifting the Champions League trophy as captain for the first time after defeating Juventus on penalties in 2003 and was named man of the match. In the space of six years Milan got to the final three times. Maldini opened the scoring in 2005 against Liverpool and played in the 2007 final which they won against the same opposition becoming the oldest captain to lift the trophy.
Maldini during this period would also go on to break Dino Zoff’s Serie A appearance record after playing his 571st league game. He did announce his plans to retire at the end of the 2007-08 season however his performances were still of the highest quality and he was convinced to stay on.
On the 16th February 2008, Maldini played in his 1000th professional game after coming on as a substitute against Parma. One season later he decided it was time to hang up the boots and played his 902nd and last game for Milan against Fiorentina on the 31st May 2009. Milan then decided to retire his number three shirt to honour their captain.
The final word can go to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. “Maldini was the best and toughest defender I ever faced. He had everything: he was a complete defender, who was strong, intelligent, and an excellent man-marker.”