Paolo Maldini spoke to MilanTV ahead of tonight’s game against Liverpool, sharing his experiences.
Tonight (21:00 CET kickoff) the moment every Milan fan has been waiting years for, finally arrives: the Rossoneri take on Liverpool – for the first time ever in Anfield – on Matchday 1 of the Champions League Group Stage.
Ahead of the game, Milan legend and current Director of Sport Paolo Maldini sat down for an interview with MilanTV:
“The Champions League for me was perhaps the highest point of my Milan career. The Champions League and also the old European Cup, which my dad won in 1963 – the first time ever for an Italian team. It’s a source of really strong emotions, which has made this club the only equal to Real Madrid in Europe.”
On Cesare Maldini: “Being close to a parent is made of other things, it’s not about just sharing your work experience, even if my father and I did the same job – if you can call it a job, this profession. It revolves more around giving a certain type of education on transmitting behavioral patterns to stick in certain moments.”
On playing the competition in the old days: “Not having too much footage at our disposal, naturally I asked for a few stats or facts. This was all from the first part of my career, and you didn’t get a complete analysis of the opposition, because you were playing against teams you’d only seen in the odd video. So there was always a lot of doubt about who you’d be going to play. There was perhaps a typical style of play for teams from a certain country. Going abroad and being in stadiums that were bigger than yours or playing against big clubs like Real Madrid or Barcelona with a history as big as your own.”
On the UEFA Cup compared to the Champions League: “To tell you the truth, in that moment there, it was a completely new experience as it was my first time playing in the old UEFA Cup against Auxerre. It was my introduction on the European stage at a high level. At that time, it didn’t feel it was too different to the Europa League but you keep moving forward. The big challenge then was the lack of a group stage, it was knockout football right from the first game. You couldn’t mess up a single game because one mistake and you’re out. The perception between the two cups has changed a little bit now, away from the importance of the old European Cup, in which only national Champions could participate.”
On the most intense games: “Probably the two most intense moments was the Derby in the semi-final in 2003. OK, 3 moments actually: the first against Juventus and our most recent title against Liverpool.”
On the Berlusconi era: “When Berlusconi became President, his idea was to have a team that could play the same away as they did at home. Sacchi’s ideas too, which transformed us, and helped us not only to make changes on a tactical and physical level but on a mental level too, in terms of being ready for whatever might come. Poor pitch, wind, rain, it didn’t matter – we’re going to play our own game. This lack of management maybe put us at a disadvantage in the longer tournaments, with Sacchi we only won 1 Scudetto out of 4 in four seasons, but he got us to such a high level that when we got to a final we didn’t feel that pressure.”
On winning the Champions League as a Captain: “Of course, it’s an amazing feeling as I said before. I wasn’t Captain in my early years but it came out of winning the league and then we had a perfect run all the way to the final; without mistakes, no? You couldn’t afford any mistakes, then the formula changed as the years went by and lifting the trophy as Captain was reaching of an objective that still remains a common goal, because this is a team sport, not an individual one and I think the great strength of this Club is that its team includes at least over 100 people, not just the guys out on the pitch but also those that accompanied us on that incredible journey. Feelings are subjective, but numbers are objective. We have the second-most storied history in Europe in terms of titles, after Real Madrid for the number of Champions League trophies, so we’re of course a point of reference and in particular, I think the Berlusconi era lasted a long 25 years and in those 25 years we managed to win multiple European titles, which is, without a doubt, a point of reference for modern teams and for ambitious teams.”
On the most memorable moment of his UCL career: “I’d say there isn’t a moment that stands out because I believe that in the 25 years of my career the bad moments, the troubling moments… when we won the Champions League in 2003 against Juventus, we hadn’t been to the final in 9 years… so there are also moments of learning. I sincerely believe that in those ‘troubling’ moments like the final in Istanbul against Liverpool. I consider them as part of my life so I took it all as a learning opportunity.”
On fans: “The support of the fans is essential. Football without fans isn’t the same, that is clear. Many of my most treasured memories are linked to the feeling that people give you; when people ask me what I miss the most, apart from the routine of training, of dressing room life, it’s the adrenaline rush when you get to the stadium. Looking back, when we played in Barcelona in our first final against Steaua, that sea of Rossoneri fans is truly unforgettable for those that were there, as was getting to the stadium in Manchester and seeing our fans. Or, as I said before, in the two-legged Derby semi-final and when we beat Real Madrid 5-0. Memories of the feeling that the crowd gives you are many.”