Synonymous with the art of Italian defending for over three decades, Paolo Maldini’s remarkable AC Milan career brought five European crowns and over 100 UEFA Champions League outings. UEFA.com pays tribute to the Rossoneri great.
AC Milan: 109 (plus 19 in European Champion Clubs’ Cup)
AC Milan: 3
Winner: 1989*, 1990*, 1994, 2003, 2007
If you don’t remember him …
Milan royalty: His father Cesare lifted the club’s first European Cup in 1963, before Paolo made his debut as a 16-year-old in 1985. Maldini was as elegant on the field at left-back and then centre-back – once saying that if he had to make a tackle, he had already made a mistake – as off it.
He spent his early career playing alongside the great Franco Baresi, eventually succeeding him as captain in 1997. If Baresi set the standard, Maldini exceeded it – by the time he retired in 2009 aged 41, he had landed five European Cups spanning three decades, claimed seven Serie A titles, one Coppa Italia and made 902 appearances for Milan, plus a further 126 for Italy.
How he made it to 100 appearances
Maldini had already won the European Cup twice – in 1989 and 1990 – prior to the 1992 introduction of the UEFA Champions League. He made ten outings in that first season, Milan eventually losing to Marseille in the Munich final, and hit double figures in the following two campaigns, the Rossoneri beating Barcelona 4-0 in the 1994 showpiece before losing to Ajax the next term.
Milan returned in style to the ultimate stage under Carlo Ancelotti in the mid-2000s, Maldini featuring 17 times in 2002/03 when ‘Il Diavolo’ felled Juventus in the final; 13 times in 2004/05 – the Italian giants losing dramatically to Liverpool; and another nine in 2006/07 as Milan gained revenge against Liverpool in Athens. His 109th and final outing at Europe’s top table came in March 2008, a 2-0 home defeat by Arsenal.
His best moments
- The 1994 final: After heartbreak against Marseille 12 months before, Milan responded in stunning fashion by winning 4-0 against Barcelona’s ‘Dream Team’ – coached by Johan Cruyff and including Josep Guardiola, Ronald Koeman and Romário – in Athens. With Maldini filling in at centre-back for the suspended Baresi, Milan scored twice in each half to clinch a fifth European crown.
- The 2003 final: After a marathon campaign in which Maldini played all 17 games and Milan eliminated Bayern München, Borussia Dortmund, Ajax and Internazionale, the all-Italian showpiece between the Rossoneri and Juve ended goalless. Andriy Shevchenko struck the winning penalty in the shoot-out and Maldini picked up the trophy for the first time as captain, 40 years after his father had done.
- The 2007 final: At 38, Maldini became the oldest man to lift the trophy as captain after Milan avenged their 2005 final loss by downing Liverpool 2-1 in Athens. Milan wore their ‘lucky’ all-white strip and edged a tight match, two goals from Filippo Inzaghi enough for victory with Maldini again excelling at centre-back.
What others said about him
“He has a wonderful presence, competitive spirit, athleticism, and though not the world’s greatest technically, he has influenced all the Milan teams during his wonderfully successful era.”
Sir Alex Ferguson, former Manchester United manager
“A defender who could read the game like nobody else, so intelligent and always so calm on the ball. One of the true greats, for both Italy and Milan.”
Andrea Pirlo, former team-mate
“He was a great – strong in the air, on his right foot, left foot. You’d have to put 15 players together to make one like him.”
Roberto Baggio, former team-mate
“One of my favourite players of all time is Paolo Maldini.”
Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid captain
“As a person Paolo was just like he was out on the pitch, he was a very consistent and reliable friend.”
Marcel Desailly, former team-mate
“I always have to work really hard, whereas Paolo just has so much natural talent.”
Alessandro Costacurta, former team-mate
“Paolo has been extremely important for me and my career. He is an example. He doesn’t talk that much – it might just be four words in an entire season – but those four words shake you up.”
Gennaro Gattuso, current Milan manager and former team-mate
“When I arrived in Milan I realised very quickly that he was exactly the player I’d watched on television, so I wanted to learn his secrets. I found that his strong motivation is simply due to his character. You have to be born that way. He’s a great man.”
Kaká, former team-mate
In case you missed them …
Champions League 100 club: Gary Neville
Champions League 100 club: John Terry
Champions League 100 club: Ashley Cole
Champions League 100 club: Patrice Evra
Champions League 100 club: Andrea Pirlo
Champions League 100 club: David Beckham
Champions League 100 club: Frank Lampard
Champions League 100 club: Andriy Shevchenko
Champions League 100 club: Oliver Kahn
Champions League 100 club: Luís Figo
*European Champion Clubs’ Cup