Straight from the dark heart of Italy
It may not have been the perfect farewell to a perfect career, but the sun shone brightly and all in all a packed San Siro rose as one to bid a final home salute to the legend that is Paolo Maldini.
And despite the small section of the Curva Sud whose hearts will always belong to Franco Baresi, altogether it was a celebration of a glittering career.
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Fathers who would have been as young as their sons at their sides when Maldini made his debut were overcome with emotion, sensing that the years pass for everyone; even for someone as the seemingly ageless man they had come to praise.
The Friuli stadium back in January 1985 must have had one of the biggest Milan followings in the club’s history judging by the number of 30 and 40-year-old’s who were claiming they had been present for the great man’s debut.
It was that sort of day – the club even unveiled its stylish new kit for next season and, of course, Paolo took it all in his majestic stride up until he ran into the massive banner saluting not him but Baresi alongside another with a moving tribute to a perceived lack of respect on Paolo’s part to those who “made him rich.”
The appearances, the trophies, the international caps are all well documented, and they all came from hard work and application to his profession – something the whistles and jeers can never drown out.
Browsing through Gazzetta dello Sport’s weekend magazine supplement, SportWeek provided an insight into how Maldini was moulded into the player we all know so well.
There in a black and white photo stands a young Paolo in his Milan kit alongside proud dad Cesare, who is neatly attired in suit and trench-coat, obligatory cigarette in one hand.
“Dad started to smoke when he was 15 and only gave up 12 years ago,” recalls Paolo who has never touched the wicked weed.
Paolo starts out in '85
Despite a weakness for nicotine, by all accounts Cesare was a severe enough parent who lived his life the way he played the game: in a very upright and correct manner.
There were never any favours granted to his son when it came to furthering his footballing career.
Cesare was not even aware of Paolo’s burgeoning talents, as he recalls: “I was always away playing at the weekend and it was only when some other people told me that your son is a decent player did I start to take notice.”
Paolo had only been playing in loosely organised games for the local parish team when he went for a trial at Milan aged 10, and even then Maldini Senior told those in charge not to pick his son just because of his name.
In fact, he didn’t know which position Paolo played and told the coach to decide – so the youngster ended up on the right wing.
However, as reported in the trial notes, “he has qualities that make him stand out.”
"For me? You shouldn't have..."
Another photo shows Paolo ages 14, in action for one of Milan’s youth sides – and the familiar stooped gait and turned-in right foot are already in evidence.
Reading the comments made by Paolo on these formative years, it is clear that dad’s influence was vital.
“He berated me for going out on a Tuesday or Wednesday with my friends,” recalls Paolo. “Monday is a footballer’s day off he would say, ‘so you can go out for a meal on a Sunday’.
“Dad came from an era when the teams went into a three-month training retreat, but I needed a bit more freedom than that.”
Only one other player from Paolo’s youth team – Francesco Zanoncelli – went on to have a career of sorts in Serie A, but few could have envisaged that the gangly lad would follow in his father’s footsteps and lift the Champions League trophy exactly 40 years after Cesare had done – and in England as well.
That moment, more than anything, cemented the Maldini legend and no doubt in private - as it has always been - son will thank father for turning him into the man he would become.
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Paulo Maldini - Greatest defender the world has ever seen.
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