Paolo Maldini has given a lengthy interview to il Corriere della Sera’s Sette, discussing a variety of topics.
If Milan finished second in the standings last season after years out of the Top 4, and are now in conversation for the Scudetto, then credit must also go to Paolo Maldini, the legendary #3 of Milan.
The Rossoneri Technical Director is at the heart of this impending new era of Milan, an era that the Diavolo want to kick off with a new stadium; a new home for the Red and Black fans.
Maldini sat down for a long interview with il Corriere della Sera’s weekend magazine Sette, getting asked about a lot of different topics by journalist Marco Imarisio.
Paolo Maldini, will the farewell to San Siro become official in 2022?
“I believe and hope that it can be so. It’s upsetting, me too. My father played there, I played there, and my son plays there. It’s been my home. If we’re putting it done to memories, who could feel hurt more than me about such a momentous change?”
Don’t you think that stadium is a piece of Milan’s history?
“Absolutely yes. But if it has become such an iconic place, it owes it to the achievements of the clubs and the players who have played there. We need to think about this. If we want Milan and Inter to return to the top of European football, writing beautiful pages like those of San Siro, we can only have a new stadium. There are no alternatives. This is not an opinion, it’s a certainty. I don’t want to erase a wonderful past. It’s just that I like to look ahead. It’s bit of the idea of my life.”
What is your strongest memory?
“Here it is, the usual nostalgic memory… beyond how it went, my last game – the one against Roma. It was a real match, one that counted for a lot and that we lost. I experienced it on an emotional rollercoaster, even as I approached the game.”
Can I say that this is a surprising choice?
“Because of the protest of some fans? It was a minority, who always made more noise than the masses. I was not a part of that world. I tried to live my profession by giving my best, demanding respect and accepting defeats, which is always difficult, because you suffer so much. I have been myself. And if we want, also thanks to those whistles, I left leaving a gesture that was not exactly trivial.”
Were you ready to say goodbye?
“Yes, although immediately after, while I was on my first vacation in August of the last 30 years, I heard the news on the radio that Milan was starting their ‘ritiro’ [training camp] and I had a strange feeling. If they are there, how come I am here by the sea? That year I went back to the stadium for the Derby, and for the last time in my left I felt the feeling that defined my life as a football. A mixture of excitement, fear and euphoria, which always took to the stomach before taking the field. A kind of a natural drug. Perhaps, the thing I missed the most.”
Your most beautiful memory in Europe?
“The first victory in the Champions League, by far. Barcelona, 1989, against Steaua Bucharest. Maybe one of the last games where the stadium was all with one team. Now there are fixed rules on capacity, there is no more Eastern Bloc, there is no more Ceaușescu. The city was invaded by our fans, it was a kind of exodus. Arriving at the stadium, both our bus and Steaua’s bus got stuck in the middle of this Rossonera tide. The result was already written.”
Was the lights out in Marseille of the second half in İstanbul against Liverpool worse?
“The first one. In the final against Liverpool there was a result, however incredible and painful it was. A dominated match, which if you replay you win 9 times out of 10. But that night in Marseille we were influenced by something that shouldn’t have been there: the lack of habit of defeat, and therefore the inability to accept it. That is the first thing that should be taught to a young player.”
Do you suffer more as the son of a footballer or as the father of a footballer?
“As a son, I suffered a lot. On the suburban fields, and now unfortunately I think it could be even worse than then… my dad would come to see the games and I would hear what people were saying, I would feel the bad looks at me. I think the parable of my career was decided on those occasions: either I gave up, or I tried to always be one of the best. To show that I was not just ‘the son of Cesare’. And every time I fired myself up like this, imagining what my opponents’ parents were saying.”
Did your father really let you free to choose between Milan and Inter?
“If I close my eyes, I still see the scene again. I was 10 years old. We were in the kitchen, next to the balcony, in our old house in Città Studi. Maybe he was confident in my answer of a certain type… he also asked me if I wanted to be in goal, which I liked a lot, or to be an outfield player. And from then on, he never asked me to be something. He always repeated to me what I say to Milan players today: Do you want to do this job? Give your best, respect the group and the people. Be honest and you will have no regrets. In the end, we are what our parents were, you can’t aspect from this destiny.”
Also in your relationship with your own children?
“My father’s serenity in managing my career has always impressed me. And the more I go on, the more it impresses me. Everyone talks about Daniel, but I suffer more for Christian, who ruptured two cruciate ligaments at 16 and 17 years old. They are both like me, not opening up to their father. But I know that the fact of being my sons has conditioned them.”
What are you the only Champion who has not yet written an autobiography?
“It’s been suggested to me many times. But autobiographies only make sense if a person can really say everything. In my opinion, it’s not right to do that. I am a person who is loyal to the unwritten code of players. It is a form of respect towards all the teams I have worked with from the first Milan with Franco Baresi to the last one in 2009. I would not like to tell my own truth. When you talk about a team, there is no single point of view.”
What did you do in your 9 years away from football?
“The day after my last game, I went to get my hair cut. From long to short, like I wear it now. I wanted to be something else. To feel appreciated or not for what I really was, not because I was Paolo Maldini, the former footballer. I was lucky enough to retire when my kids were still young. Having time for them was great. I enjoyed a normal life.”
As a football player is it not possible?
“I always repeat to my players that when you cross the doorsteps of Milanello you have to forget everything and think only about football. But this inevitably leads you to sacrifice others. When I was playing, even having café with friends was an experience that I often couldn’t afford.”
What was it like returning to Milan after all that time?
“At first, every night I would come home and tell my wife that it was a disaster. I kept repeating to Leonardo, who had wanted me with him, that I felt useless. I didn’t understand the administrative part of the job, I wondered what I was doing there. I have to feel like a protagonist.”
And when Leonardo told you he was going to PSG?
“What the fuck are you saying Leo, was my response… With my eyes wide open. I felt lost. But honestly, right after that I also had the feeling of being comfortable for the first time. I was back in a situation where I had no one to shield me. What I had always been looking for. I am very grateful to Leonardo, my apprenticeship with him was fundamental. We talk to each other often.”
Even after he stole your goalkeeper, the best player of the EUROs at just 21-years-old?
“Sometimes I know I sound almost fatalistic. Gianluigi Donnarumma is a beautiful person, full of emotions. I believe that in an ideal world the only real motivation of a footballer should be passion. But if your objective is to obtain social redemption and money to give to your family, who tightened their belts for you during your childhood years, well, those are motivations too. To be understood and respected.”
So it’s not just about money?
“To achieve certain results and stature as a player, sporting motivations are key. It can happen that the needs of a player do not match those of a club. There are those who can wait and those who are in a hurry. It is not for me to judge certain choices.”
Would the great Milan team of two consecutive European wins have won even without Arrigo Sacchi on the bench, as your friend Marco Van Basten claims?
“Perhaps we would have won also with another coach. But be careful. That team is remembered because it created something unique, and it was the beginning of Milan’s great cycle. And I believe that without Arrigo’s arrival, the history of Milan in the last 25 years would have been very different. Because it was his spasmodic search for perfection that turned us into what we have become.”
Was that obsession also a limitation?
“There is a Sacchi paradox. We were unbeatable in decisive matches, but we lost so many Scudetti. The quest for perfection implies that you can’t be perfect for 11 months in a row. It’s a temporary state, and we were aware of it. But if we have reached a very high level, leaving behind an important legacy, then the credit goes to him. In Italian football there is a before and an after Sacchi, whether you like it or not. And that Milan team may have left something behind, but it carried on a cycle that lasted almost 20 years.”
How have players changed?
“Before games, there was a sacred silence in the dressing room. Now, everywhere, there is music at a very high volume. I’m not the kind of person who says ‘in my day it was better’. It was just different. Footballers adapt, like all workers. For example, social media means that during training camps, there isn’t much conversation anymore within groups. Instagram and whatever else have killed the implicit beauty of the training camp: the dialogue, the friendships that were being forged. I belong to a different generation.”
Will COVID revolutionize football?
“People often talk badly about today’s football players, but instead they were all too good at playing at a good level without fans. A year in those conditions was killing not only the product itself, but their souls as well. I could not have done it, I’m honest. When I entered San Siro and maybe there were just 20k fans for Coppa Italia games, I felt dull. Football cannot feel above anything, even if we believe were in a bubble; and it cannot delude itself into thinking that it can do without a direct relationship with the fan. At the stadium, not on TV.”
Will there ever be another all-Italian European final like Milan-Juventus in 2003 in Manchester?
“Thinking of returning to the dominance of the early years of the new century is unreal. There will be no more owners like Berlusconi or Moratti. Finance says it, it says how the world is. And in the meantime the others, the English Premier League but also the German Bundesliga thanks to the 2006 World Cup, have organized themselves and overtaken us.”
In what way?
“Simple, they’ve rebuilt the stadiums. This is the way to generate profit and become more competitive. If we had done it first, we would have remained competitive, like Juventus demonstrates. But it hasn’t happened so far, due the prevalence of particular interests. When it comes to the Lega Calcio, a minimum of common vision would be needed, preferably a long-term one. Investment in infrastructures is the only possible opportunity, if we want to return to being big European companies. Otherwise, we can only dream of the arrival of Prince Charming.”
How does Paolo Maldini see himself in 10 years’ time?
“With white hair, hopefully happy. As for this job, either I do it with Milan or I don’t do it. Maybe abroad, but honestly I should think about it. I’m happy to have had this opportunity. I know that if I hadn’t done it, I would always have the regret of not having tried. Also for this reason, the future does not scare me.”