For more information on the Players I Would Play To Watch series read the introduction.
There is a term used in football called the ‘consummate professional’. This is usually reserved for the type of player you would want others to base their careers on. In that regard there are few outstanding players who merit the title by Paolo Maldini has got to be one of those.
For longevity, for commitment, for loyalty, for dedication on the pitch, for the ability to intervene at crucial periods in a match, for a relatively unruffled personality where his calm on the pitch was maintained in victory or defeat. For these things and more, few can ever hope to match Maldini, and he has plenty to go by in terms of experiencing the ups and downs to be experienced at the highest level of the game.
He epitomised elegance and majestic control of a game that few of his peers ever matched. To do this from his position in defence, whether as a centre-back or a left-back, made his achievement all the more remarkable.
As someone who was introduced to defence in football via the British model, Maldini showed a different and better way. Where the British preferred the centre-back with the bulldog mentality that no attacker would pass them, Maldini oozed a cool in facing the attackers that said he had more skill and grace than they did and would control them to minimise any threat they may propose.
In a very similar way to John Barnes, Maldini appeared to rise to the occasion more often for his club than his country. Although his time playing for his country coincided with a frustrating time in terms of the national team’s ability to turn their ability to trophies it was particularly disappointing never seeing the best of Maldini given a platform on the world stage.
This does not detract, however, from a gloriously successful club career all for AC Milan. My introduction to Italian football came just before Paul Gascoigne made it fashionable to watch it following the 1990 World Cup. Milan had already established themselves as arguably the best team in Europe and Serie A was the place to be to see the best football available. Whether it was Sacchi or Capello, the Milan team was a joy to behold. The Dutch trio of Rijkaard, Van Basten and Guillit would grab the attention first, and then stalwarts like Baresi would also be mentioned. Learning through all this was Maldini, already at the time beginning to show what a world class performer he would be.
As the Dutch trio left and Baresi looked towards retirement Maldini emerged as the foundation and benchmark of a team to enjoyed success in the 90’s and the 00’s. To see the guy at work was to be reminded that the game was as much about what is done in the mind, as what is done