x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Milan to honour Maldini

Adriano Galliani has seen and worked with many of the great players at AC Milan.

Paolo Maldini, left, challenges Arsenal's Emmanuel Adebayor in the Champions League.
Paolo Maldini, left, challenges Arsenal's Emmanuel Adebayor in the Champions League.

DUBAI // Adriano Galliani has seen and worked with many of the great players at AC Milan. Marco van Basten, Ruud Gullit, Andriy Shevchenko and Kaka to name but a few. But none are rated as highly as Paolo Maldini, commanding club captain and, with his model looks and polite manners, the perfect ambassador. As he now enters his 24th and final professional year with the club he joined at the age of nine - he made his debut as a 16-year-old in 1985 against Udinese - Maldini's goodbye will leave Galliani, the club's vice-president, and many others saddened. The end of an era, but the Maldini name will live long in the memory and the hearts of the Rossoneri.

Milan is where his father Cesare also made his name. Perhaps Paolo's sons will continue the family tradition. If Christian, currently on the club's books, and Daniel do play for Milan, it will be the only time the Milan No 3 shirt will be seen again after the summer as Galliani revealed the number will definitely be retired in homage to the service of princely Paolo. Only Franco Baresi, the former captain and Maldini's mentor, has been afforded such an honour when his No 6 shirt was taken out of use in 1997.

"No one can wear the No 3 unless one of his children plays for Milan and it will be given to them," confirmed Galliani, who revealed a coaching or ambassadorial role are future options for Maldini when he retires on the playing side. "He is the top one of Milan. He is the player who has been playing with Milan for the longest and won many trophies. He is at the top with Franco Baresi. "Franco and him played in different eras. They are probably at the same level, but Maldini is top because he has won the most."

Maldini is reluctant to dwell on the future just yet. Last season he said he would retire and ended up staying an extra year when Milan missed out on a place in the Champions League. He will be 41 in June and admits this is the right time to go. "It doesn't matter if you are in sport or any field, you can continue doing it for as long as you like if you enjoy it," said Maldini. "My secret is that I love the sport, I am passionate about it.

"I have had a long career and lots of satisfactions. I have played with all the best players in the world, but sometimes we also under- estimate this club and we have others, maybe not star names, who are important to the team. "I have had an important and beautiful career. If one of my children decides to follow me, I will be the happiest man in the world." Football lovers in the Emirates will see Maldini in action in the Dubai Football Challenge. The match, sponsored by Emirates Airline and Dubai Tourism and Commerce Marketing, sees Milan pitted against Hamburg and takes place on Jan 6 at The Sevens stadium (kick-off 7pm).

The on-loan David Beckham, Kaka and Ronaldinho join him in a very strong squad. However, they trail rivals Inter Milan at the top of Serie A by nine points. The coach, Carlo Ancelotti, said: "We don't think it is impossible to reach them [Inter]. It was difficult for us in the first half of the season because we had a lot of injuries and new players settling in. "We hope to do a lot better in the second half of the season."