The MSR advent calendar: Our favorite signings that never happened: Door 8 – Paolo Maldini
Before I entered into a long-standing, still ongoing relationship with FC Bayern, my first great love in football was Paolo Maldini. My great respect for outstanding defenders has its roots in my admiration for Maldini. Because of him, I decided to play football in a girls’ team myself at a young age. However, while my career as a left-back came to a quick end, Maldini matured to become the epitome of the complete defender.
The son of Cesare Maldini, who himself is inextricably linked to AC Milan, has left his mark not only on one but two of the most successful eras of the Rossoneri: At a young age he was at the side of Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurta, as part of the “Immortals”, and later in the 2000s as one of the “Invincibles”, playing alongside Alessandro Nesta, Jaap Stam and Cafu in defense.
Maldini was flexible, in fact he played in all four positions of a defensive line at different points of his career. As a young player, he made a name for himself at left-back, but became a great central defender later on. He combined fighting spirit and athleticism, was a strong dribbler and great man marker. Only rarely did he have to play “dirty”, because his tackles were clinically clean and precise. Maldini himself once said, “when I have to make a tackle, I have already made a mistake before”. But above all Maldini had an impressive presence on the field. He was – as they say – a leader, the heart of the team.
Maldini embodied a perfect blend of robust elegance and charming arrogance. Not only did he prove this week after week and year after year at AC Milan – he came up with a total of 902 appearances for the Rossoneri – but also in the Italian national team, for which he played 126 times. In May 2009 Maldini officially ended his impressive career as a footballer and I shed bitter tears along with the rest of the football world. A player like Maldini does not come around all too often.
Bayern went through a turbulent period at the beginning of the 1990s. The club ended the 1991/92 season in a scandalous tenth place, with a negative goal difference (59:61) and a negative points balance (36:40). In the DFB-Pokal, the club disgraced themselves at home against second-league club FC Homburg, and in the European Cup, the team lost 2:6 to FC Copenhagen – a few days after coach Jupp Heynckes was dismissed. There were many, very many fundamental issues in the team that needed to be repaired.
In 1992, two players joined Bayern, Lothar Matthäus and Mehmet Scholl, who were to leave a lasting mark on the club over the next few years, and had Maldini been signed as well, he would certainly have done the same. His consistent performance would have guaranteed him a regular place; especially in the early 1990s, Maldini easily outperformed direct rivals in his position. But even in later years the other defenders around him could have benefited and learned from his experience, his positional play and his vision on the field. Of course, AC Milan’s much-praised defensive line also worked so well because the individual players perfectly harmonized with each other. Would Maldini have reached the same heights without Baresi or later Nesta beside him? I would say that he would have become a world-class player anyway.
If Bayern had signed him for the 1992/93 season, Maldini would have been 24 years old at the time – and could have served as their main defender for another 16 years. Even a few years playing together with Philipp Lahm would have been possible. In the 1991/92 season AC Milan had managed to win the championship without conceding a single defeat. After a move to the Isar, Maldini would quickly have become an integral part in Bayern’s defense, thus avoiding the painful defeats with AC Milan in the Champions League finals against Olympique Marseille in 1993 and Ajax Amsterdam in 1995.
What is more, he would no longer have been part of the legendary AC Milan under Ancelotti, which reached the final of the Champions League three times between 2003 and 2007 (and thus could have escaped the Liverpool trauma of 2005). Instead, he would have helped Bayern to keep their nightmare Pippo Inzaghi in check and prevent their repeated early elimination from the Champions League at his hands.
However, if Maldini had been mainly used as a left-back, Christian Ziege (who later actually moved to AC Milan himself) would probably not have made the breakthrough at Bayern; nor would the transfer of Bixente Lizarazu probably have come about. Maldini might have been more suited to central defense, but since a four-man backline was still unthinkable in the early 1990s, it would probably have featured in a 3-5-2 or 5-3-2 at most.
Maldini was not only a great player on the pitch, but was also always considered a perfect gentleman. Of course, his unwavering loyalty to AC Milan is also one of the qualities that have distinguished him as a player and a person. That is why behind this little door in our Advent calendar hides nothing more than a dream – but a beautiful one nonetheless.
Behind the next door is another offensive player. The youngster could have added his firepower to Guardiola’s armory in the semi-final against Atlético in the spring of 2016 and perhaps even shot his team into the final.