Many football fans around the world associate AC Milan’s squad number “3” with one player’s name. And of course that is the name of Paolo Maldini, a legend among legends who is considered the world’s greatest left-back, owning the Serie A all-time record of 647 appearances.
From his debut at the tender age of 16 for the 1984-85 season, Maldini spent all of his 25-year career playing exclusively for AC Milan until his retirement from the club in 2009. Everyone’s in perfect agreement that the club made the right choice in permanently retiring the number “3” in honor of the bandiera (an icon-like player who played exclusively for the same club).
Paolo Maldini’s football career is all about glory. Out of his many achievements some of the standouts include winning the UEFA Champions (including former European Champion Clubs’ Cups) 5 times, Intercontinental Cup (now known as FIFA Club World Cup) 3 times, 7 Serie A victories and many more titles. He is really a perfect example of AC Milan’s Golden Age.
Maldini’s career synchronizes well with AC Milan’s rise to glory. Although making his debut during a sluggish period for the club, Paolo Maldini, the son of Cesare Maldini who played for Milan in the 1950s and 60s and had even captained the club to a European championship, became a driving force for the victory at the Coppa Italia Primavera with the Milan Youth side during the 1984-85 season. During the following season he switched from left back to the right back position and gained a spot in the starting eleven. He found himself facing growing expectations for playing superbly and was considered a bright ray of hope from fans.
The year 1986 saw the entry of Silvio Berlusconi, now the honorable chairman of the club. The ex-premier and Milanese entrepreneur became the chairman and started to strengthen the team by signing big names using his abundant funds. With this background and the guidance of coach Arrigo Sacchi who introduced the thrilling new “Zone Press” tactics, Maldini was able to develop his abilities to the maximum. At this moment, The Golden Age of AC Milan had arrived.
Maldini retired during the 2008-09 season and the club started its decline. Reasons for this are several, including the end of the longtime reign of coach Carlo Ancelotti, but it is obvious that the loss of the great legend Paolo Maldini that same season was instrumental in causing the club to start to lose a little luster.
But even this legend was not able to obtain a trophy at the World Cup. Taking pride in his 126 caps for the national team since his first match in 1988, he was still unable to grasp a cup in any once-in-four-years event. Maldini was able to collect records for: semifinals (3rd place) in 1990, runners-up in 1994, quarterfinals in 1998, and round 16 in 2002. But he narrowly lost in penalty shootouts during each of the first 3 events mentioned above. He also had to fight back his tears when the team conceded the dramatic golden goal during the extra time of the 2002 Korea/Japan World Cup. This resulted in Maldini hanging up his azzurri (popular name for the Italian national team) jersey. How great his disappointment was at that time is not hard to imagine.
But just suppose for a minute that if fortune had smiled a bit on him, or even if the team had lost in a different way, it is not impossible to imagine him having the honor of lifting the cup during the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Written by Jun Nakayama