So what kind of man is this who can dispossess Diego Maradona and force Zinedine Zidane to seek refuge on the other side of the park? Maldini shrugs his shoulders as if to say: "Just doing my job." His acceptance speech after winning World Soccer magazine's player of the year award in 1996 went something like: "What, me? I'm a defender."
Most women would risk their long-term relationships for half an hour with him. He's impossibly good-looking, even by Italian standards; he's captain of the world club champions; a euro-billionaire and a male model. If pushed, he'll host your disco.
Okay, so I'd better get *my* sentimental tribute piece in before it's too late.
The accompanying photograph to the Telegraph piece carries the caption: "Paolo Maldini has won everything in his playing career." I have always found this a very imperfect truth when describing this man among men. My first acquaintance with Paolo Maldini was at France '98 [I have memories of '94, but they are dim, and mostly of Maradona's drug bust and the slumped shoulders of Roberto Baggio] and that, and subsequent re-acquaintances, always ended in almost comic disaster: that penalty shootout, Trezeguet's golden goal, Byron Moreno, 4-0 at the Riazor. Paolo Maldini is the only man in that elite class of legends, peopled by the likes of Maradona and Beckenbauer, who can honestly claim to have lost at least as much, and as dramatically, as he has won. It's one of the reasons I like him unreservedly. He calls to mind the 'If you can face triumph and disaster/and treat those two impostors just the same' line that is one of If's better moments. Perhaps not as deserving of the plaudit as someone like Franco Baresi, since he is and always has been the child of fortune, but deserving enough.
Maradona, in his autobiography, said Maldini was too pretty to be a footballer, which I think says some very interesting things about Maradona. But I, too, have always thought that Paolo is one of the nicest-looking men we are likely to come upon in our lifetimes. Which is why it amused me when the Telegraph article made apparently innocent reference to "that trademark central parting." Fans of the inimitable James Richardson and his quips about Cesare Maldini will know why this is such sweet sorrow. I prefer the windblown curls of his late twenties myself, but the style appears, like the bandieri of Italian football, to be an anachronism.
Going back to pretending that football doesn't exist for the next little while now. It's been an unpleasant couple of weeks, even by Milan's low standards for the season, and I admit that the Milan-Arsenal tie is now giving me a clammy forehead and shaking hands. I have taken to sublimating this with neurotic Inter-baiting.
PS. How exactly does one 'host a disco' in this day and age? Do you rent out the strobe lights or something? The lycra costumes? The shady drugs? Is there money in it? I will need a job in a couple of months.
[Found the picture I was looking for - thanks, Neko.]