Interviewed on the podcast “Muschio Selvaggio”, AC Milan‘s director and legend Paolo Maldini opened up about his life. Here are his words:
Your story starts from a young age…
“It started with my dad, who was a great footballer, making my story even more unique. My dad was the first player from Milan to win the Champions League in ’63 with an Italian team. I’m very attached to Milan and Milanese and to the Rossoneri environment.”
How much did the expectations weigh on you?
“A lot, my parents gave me everything I have, especially in terms of education. My dad guided me towards a 1960s idea of professionalism, but I was born in ’68 and belong to a different era. I had to adapt his idea to modern times. I started my professional career at 16, but I wanted to live my life. I think it was an important step of emancipation to break away from those ideas and introduce a new idea of professionalism. My dad used to play on Sundays at three, have Mondays off, and then go back to training until the next game, and it was too much”, declared Maldini.
The rumors about favoritism, but then you proved yourself on the field…
“It weighed on me, and unfortunately, it also affected my children. They faced pressure too, but it weighed on me. It weighed on me when I was 11, 12, 13, and 14 years old. I had a goal and a passion, but at that age, you think about having fun. Having all those expectations took away the more enjoyable part. There are two ways to deal with it: either take too much weight and have expectations you can’t fulfill, or fight and show how much you’re worth. It’s too early at that age because there’s always fun in football. The idea of a father having a child who plays football and saying, ‘My son is a champion’ creates a lot of expectations, and sometimes they’re also false. Of those who start in Milan’s youth teams, only 1% manages to reach the top.”
At 17, you scored your first goal in Serie A. How did it feel?
“I scored my first goal in Serie A at 17, in Como. I remember many episodes from more than half of the matches I played. I didn’t know what to do; it was my first goal. I was a bit dazed for the first minute and a half. Then we won that match too, so there was a lot of excitement and hope for the final result. I also remember that Berlusconi gave me a watch with a dedication. The dedication was very simple but nice.”
Then the call-up to the Under 21s with your dad…
“My father called me up for the Under 21s, but I had already been called up by Vialli and Mancini, who had reached the semi-finals. I was called up for the second leg of the semi-final and the final. My path was already set, but it didn’t prevent comments. I was 18 years old, and it was a bit premature, but that’s where I started not to care.”
Did you need to be strong mentally? Maldini answered
“Mentality and discipline are crucial. When you have talent, you tend to lack discipline, and this can lead you to achieve less over the years. I always tell the young players that even the best player of all time experiences ups and downs in their career, so you always need discipline. I had many ups and downs, and your family knows very well the turbulence you face in difficult moments.”
How did you do it?
“In my case, I believe it’s because I was born into my family, I played in the city where I was born with my family’s support. If you start traveling at 18, it’s hard to put down roots or have someone to tell you the real things. Whether you do well or not, you lose touch with reality.”
Is it all in your head?
“It’s important when combined with talent, the joy of the game, and discipline. Before Sacchi, we weren’t as precise; discipline in the box counted, willpower mattered. You save or score a goal for one-tenth of a second, that constant thing that becomes yours helps you. The difference between a great player and a good one is not a 10%, it’s the details that make the difference.”
What are the differences between Sacchi, Ancelotti, and Capello?
“In terms of character: Sacchi didn’t play football. I’m not saying he was afraid, but maybe he had a different approach compared to that of a great former player. It was very difficult, especially because the working methods changed: Sacchi killed us. There was less knowledge compared to today because then the athletic trainers came along. I think I overtrained for half of my career. The important thing is not to mix too many jobs. I would go home and be in a relationship with Adriana, but I couldn’t eat out (laughs). I had Ancelotti in the best part of my life; when you’re 30, you handle emotions differently and enjoy tense moments. What I miss the most is that mix of excitement and fear when you arrive at the stadium for big matches. At first, you say, ‘Damn it…’ then you hope to experience it again. After 30, you approach things more logically and calmly. Capello took me and said, ‘Do you know you’re the best in the world?’ From there, I took on the responsibility of being the best in the world, and it made me grow a lot.”
What memories do you have of Maradona?
“He and the Brazilian Ronaldo are the strongest. I haven’t played against Messi, thank God. CR7 is a great striker, but he has less magic than the other two. I was fast and physically strong, but they were even faster. Diego was also very funny: when they named him in the Hall of Fame, I was ashamed for giving him so many beatings, and I apologized.”
Regarding Italy-South Korea, what memories do you have?
“I ended on a high note (laughs). Before it started, I realized something was off. In 2002, there was no handshake; only the captains did it. Tommasi still had the habit of doing it, and he even went to the referee, who refused. Then we made mistakes too, but… The attitude also made a difference. They didn’t want to let us into the stadium, we got into a fight to get into the locker room… In 2006 Lippi asked me to go to the World Cup, but I didn’t feel like going back. I had already said no to Trapattoni in 2004.”
What did you think in 2006?
“I’m sorry I didn’t win, but after playing in four World Cups, everything you’ve won with your club… envy doesn’t exist. In 2002, there was a generational change. In 2006, I went to celebrate with the car”, said Maldini.
Is your philosophy similar to Jordan’s?
“It’s a bit like that: if you’re a winner, you’ve still lost a lot. I’ve lost three Champions League finals, a World Cup final, and a European Championship final. I’ve been fortunate to play for great teams and national teams, but thank God I’ve always had the opportunity to play for something important.”
The era of loyalty to one club is gone…
“Now it’s much harder. Italians rarely went abroad, and it was easier to stay within your own country. The important thing is to be ambitious. If you’re ambitious and find everything you need to reach your goal in the team where you were born, it’s easy. But if I had been born in another club that didn’t have the same ambitions as mine…”.
Did you receive offers from United, Real, and Arsenal as a player?
“The rumors are true, but nothing concrete. Chelsea also approached me through Vialli. Did I ever think of leaving Milan? I would have had to be very convinced to leave, and the club would have had to let me go. It never happened. There were tough years, like in the mid-’90s when we finished tenth and eleventh, and there were protests. The club always wanted to keep me, so those thoughts never crossed my mind.”
Why are there fewer loyal players these days?
“I never lacked anything. The importance of playing a team sport teaches you that what you have matters, not where you come from. Since I was a child, I learned about schedules, goals, it’s a continuous lesson. I don’t judge those who choose a team solely for economic reasons. There are also 16-17-year-olds who have to help their families thanks to football. It’s a heavy and not simple thing.”
Do you remember the incident with Chiellini in a Milan-Juventus match in the 2008-2009 season when you put your hands on his neck?
“He elbowed me during a corner, and I had already broken my nose several times, so I didn’t want to break it again, and I got very angry. Then Buffon came and told me to calm down. These things happen, but you should know that it’s even worse in training. Sometimes you lose patience. I remember another episode, during a Berlusconi Trophy match where I headbutted Casiraghi, my teammate in the national team. What a disgrace that time was. In that game, I also scored and was elected the best player of the match despite being sent off. I refused it because I was ashamed. Casiraghi, by the way, had to get married the next day and did it with a black eye.”
You also created a brand with Vieri…
“It was something that happened by chance. We found ourselves at my house and created this brand. It was a fun thing. We are still partners, but we don’t take care of it anymore.”
What is more important, talent or obsession in sports?
“Talent helps. Everyone is physically and tactically prepared, but obsession and discipline make the difference. There are players who have lost their physical strength and mentality due to an injury, for example, and are no longer the same as before.”
Your son Daniel Maldini is on loan at Spezia…
“He has already achieved a lot; he has even won a league title. Christian also grew up at Milan, then he had two cruciate ligament injuries and now plays in the lower league. Daniel is having his first experience away from Milan. Moreover, unlike me, my dad, and Christian, he’s the only one who doesn’t play as a defender. He’s doing great. He’s not as precocious as I was, so this loan season and the next one will be crucial for him.”
What do you feel when people talk about the Maldini generation at Milan?
“The story of our family is difficult to understand and explain; there is nothing similar. We are proud of this, in addition to being die-hard Milan fans, of course.”
The final in Istanbul. What happened at halftime?
“I scored a goal in the final after 40 seconds, and that’s when I realized something strange was going on (laughs, editor’s note). It was a match that we dominated for 110 minutes, they played well for 10 minutes, and we managed to lose. There have been many speculations about what happened at halftime. We entered the locker room shouting because we were extremely nervous, and Ancelotti intervened by yelling to make us shut up. They said we had celebrated, but as the captain, I would never have allowed it, and my teammates wouldn’t have done it either. These things are far from reality; it’s almost foolish to comment on them. Football is beautiful because of this. Liverpool made a defensive substitution to avoid conceding more goals, and instead, they conceded three in six minutes. The beauty of football is also that two years later, we had the opportunity to face Liverpool again in Athens and win.”
What is the economic future of football?
“At the moment, the gap is enormous and not easy to bridge. Milan was a great club until 2007, but then struggled to keep up with the revenue levels of certain clubs like PSG, Real Madrid, and Manchester United. Today, in terms of the market, we compete economically with teams that finish 18th in the English Premier League. The economic power of these teams surpasses ours, but we have tradition and ideas.”
What is your relationship with Berlusconi? Maldini answered:
“At the beginning, he wasn’t a politician. When he arrived at Milan, he told us about his project and made us all dream. Berlusconi wasn’t as well-known back then, so we had some doubts when he said he wanted to bring Milan to the top of the world. He came and reorganized the entire club like a functioning business. He was methodical and had control over everything. He prepared in every aspect, wanting to know everything about someone before speaking with them. Before becoming prime minister in 1994, at the beginning of the season, he told us we had three objectives: to win the league, win the Champions League, and for him to become prime minister. He said that if we won the Champions League, he would have a better chance of becoming prime minister. And how did it go? We won the league, the Champions League, and he became prime minister. I knew his son Pier Silvio; sometimes I would go to Arcore with him. Did we talk about politics? No, maybe we talked about football. In general, he has always been very attentive to everyone. A year ago, I went to Arcore with him and Galliani, and he asked about my family and other things. It’s nice when those things happen; it means he cares.”
Can Leao become a top player and a top rapper?
“He has already released an album. Once he asked me if he could release it on Friday, and then we played on Saturday. I said, ‘What?!’ Then he explained to me that albums are released on Fridays in the music world. I told him, ‘Then you have to score two goals tomorrow.’ Leao is an incredible talent. Thanks to my dad, I am an aesthete, and Leao is a joy to watch, something unique. He has what it takes to become a top player. He was on the bench at Lille, and when he arrived, I told him he played for his Instagram because he posted beautiful videos with dribbles and plays, but at the end of the season, he only had two goals. We helped him change this mentality. Someone so talented must work even harder than others to make the most of their talent.”
Have you clarified things with Spalletti?
“There’s no need to clarify. That’s also the beauty of maturity. A quote came out that I didn’t say (‘You’ve already won the league, don’t complain’). I didn’t want to cause trouble or make noise; at that moment, other people were the protagonists, not us.”
Renovate San Siro or build a new stadium?
“If we want to live on memories, we can stay at San Siro. The players make history. It’s a stadium that has changed a lot; it’s not the same as it was 80 years ago. But can we keep living on memories? Or should we build a new, modern stadium that allows us to increase revenue? What bothers me the most is that the city of Milan understands this; it’s not possible to miss out on such an opportunity.”
On never winning a Ballon d’Or:
“I have no regrets. What bothers me more is not having won a World Cup, for example. It’s better to win a trophy than a personal award.”
What is your relationship with Inter? Maldini said:
“There is utmost respect, but it’s not just me. When Nesta came from Lazio, he asked me which restaurants he could go to and which ones he couldn’t, because that’s how it is in Rome. I told him he could go wherever he wanted. There is a healthy rivalry between the two teams.”
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