Maldini prepares to say goodbye
Italy, AC Milan legend Paolo Maldini is finally set to retire after 24-year career
Defender has won five Champions League titles, been on four World Cup teams
Maldini discusses his greatest achievements, biggest regrets and future plans
On Sunday, AC Milan's Paolo Maldini will play his final match in front of the home crowd at the San Siro. The 40-year-old defender is hanging up his boots after a legendary 24-year career that includes five Champions League titles and seven Serie A crowns while with Milan, as well as participating in four World Cups and three European Championships with the Italian national team. World Soccer's Paddy Agnew recently caught up with the Italian icon.
World Soccer: How hard is it going to be to finally hang up the boots?
Maldini: I've been very lucky. I played all my life in Milan, for a very good team, and I've always had my family around me. Everything has been perfect. Everything that I wanted to do in my career, I did it.
World Soccer: Is your body telling you the time has come and that you have pushed it far enough?
Maldini: Ironically, I'm much better this year than for the last three seasons. After my two knee operations, everything is much better and I am training regularly. I could keep on playing, but I don't want to. This year I thought I would be playing just a few games -- and here I am playing in them all.
World Soccer: So there's no way we will see you back here for the start of next season?
Maldini: No, no, I am stopping all right. I mean, when I look at my career, I have really stretched it as far as you can go. I started in Serie A at the age of 16 and here I am still playing at 40.
World Soccer: You say you have no regrets, that you have done everything you wanted to. But surely the 2005 Champions League final loss to Liverpool in Istanbul hurts a bit?
Maldini: Why would that be a bad memory? That was one of the best finals I ever played in. We played really well, much better than Liverpool, and we really deserved to win much more than them. But that's football. That defeat, though, meant that when we met them two years later, again in the final, we were really keen to get our revenge. The second final maybe wasn't a great game, but it was real proof of how determined we were -- and then we went on to beat Boca Juniors [in the Club World Cup] just to prove the point that we really were a very good team. We played better than Liverpool in Istanbul and we deserved to win but, you know, that's life. I won a lot of things in my career. I can accept a defeat. We did our best.
World Soccer: Is there any game that you regret? One that you wished you had never played?
Maldini: A game I would happily not have played in was our European Cup quarterfinal return match with Marseille [in 1991]. That certainly did not end the way I would have liked. [With the score at 1-0 that night, and with Marseille winning the tie 2-1 on aggregate, Milan was clearly on its way out of the competition as the match went into to injury time. Then the floodlights failed, offering what seemed like a lifeline to Milan director general Adriano Galliani. In a distinctly unsporting move, much criticized in Italy, he marched the team off the field and refused to play out the last three minutes of injury time. The Milan ploy was obvious: It would argue that the game had to be replayed because of the floodlight failure. UEFA, however, took a rather different view and banned Milan from European competition for a year.] It's one thing to do your best and get beat, that's too bad. But to walk off like that... [Shakes his head ruefully.]
World Soccer: With 126 caps, you are the most-capped Italian of all time. Given your long career with the Italian team, was it difficult to watch it win the World Cup without you in 2006? After all, you had played in every World Cup and European Championship finals tournament from '88 through to '02.
Maldini: I was in America for the '06 World Cup, a long way away, so until it got to the semifinal stage, I saw hardly anything. I saw the final all right. I was very happy for them but disappointed for myself because we had gone so close so often when I played. But, you know, I've had so much out of life that I cannot complain.
World Soccer: Did losing in the semis to Argentina at the '90 World Cup in Italy not hurt? Should Italy have won that tournament?
Maldini: Italia '90 was a great experience, even if a disappointment. Maybe we weren't destined to win it, but we should at least have made it to the final. Remember, we got to the semifinal without having conceded even one goal.
World Soccer: Any other World Cup memories?
Maldini: The '94 tournament in the U.S. was strange. I remember our opening game against Ireland in Giants Stadium game when they really caused us problems. We were expected to win that game, but defeat really started our World Cup on the wrong note. Then in our next game, against Norway, our goalkeeper was sent off. Oh dear, dear, what a traumatic start. We ended up in the final, losing on penalties. That's football.