Monday, February 18, 2008

a very long engagement

Tributes in the form of verbal fellatio are already being offered to Paolo Maldini. Yes, again. We can only presume that this is in the wake of his impending ejection from his European hunting grounds -- if Milan live to progress to the quarter-finals of this year's Champions' League no doubt there will be another round of articles, and then another, and then, on the slim chance of his arriving at Moscow, a final glorious barrage of attention.

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.]


Martha said...

I wonder if it's because he's one of the few Italian footballers English writers really think they know? It's not as if he's not worthy of the adoration, but even he must be slightly tired of it every once in a while, and want to shove someone else in front of the Brits. Pippo, for example. Or Nesta, who would presumably bear the pesky attention with much less grace. (That's what Maldini gets, I guess, for the bait and switch with the retirement, though -- two rounds of slobbering farewells.)

And this:

eyes the colour of Colombian coffee beans

has me caught between laughing hysterically and weeping.

roswitha said...

I've never seen a Colombian coffee bean - is it actually blue, Martha?

I think you're right about Maldini being someone they know and whom they can praise unreservedly. His very existence seems to be an excuse to castigate the "new breed" of footballer. He's a very unthreatening role model, in some ways. But I guess he's one of those guys from whom you just can't subtract the fact of his phenomenal talent and committment. It's just not something the English are prepared to accept about someone like Pippo, but Paolo cuts the mustard. Maybe it *is* because he's so good-looking, you know.

It makes me like him [Paolo] even more that he always seems to acknowledge that a lot of it has to do with good luck.

Martha said...

I'm clinging to that one article from earlier this year about Zanetti, and hoping against hope that he'll get a tiny surge of love from Elsewhere when he decides to hang it up. I'm not sure if his eyes are the right color for this sort of tribute, though ...

[And I will text my Colombian friend immediately about the bean situation. Will report back, if he actually answers rather than just laughing.]

Spangly Princess said...

that article is hilarious! deary me.

ursus arctos said...

Wow, my three favourite female football bloggers on the same thread. It's quite intimidating.

My own take on Maldini is that (in addition to being a sublime footballer) he is a useful vessel into which a wide variety of pre-conceptions can be poured. Thus there is an element of the Anglo media that finds him a sufficiently exotic repository for all of their repressed homoerotic yearnings*, and another that sees him as the embodiement of the inherent superiority of Italian culture (as seen from Chiantishire and the panini bars of Islington, of course), whereas the local hagiographies tend to focus more on his stature as the perfect family man (in each of his trinitarian guises as son, father and husband).

Having literally grown up in the millieu, he has learned to take all of this in stride, without ever putting a foot wrong by consciously exhibiting behaviour that would shatter any of the various idols created in his image, while at the same time never giving the indication that he defines himself in any of such ways.

The idolatry does tend to distort any evaluation of his actual performances, though, and over the last two years or so there has definitely been a bit of a conspiracy of silence when it comes to acknowledging that he is not the player he was ten years ago (very few of us above the age of 30 are). I sometimes think that Nesta may be getting just the slightest bit tired of that particular dynamic, but would not be shocked if Paolo has quietly taken him aside and explained that it was exactly the same for him in Baresi's last season and a half.

*Not that there is anything wrong with that, certainly. It isn't as if the likes of Stevie G or John Terry provide worthy competition.

roswitha said...

Intimidating? But we're just talking about handsome men! *g*

I find that Milan has been particularly prone to these tacit denials of ability (since Maldini performs at a level where talking of 'form' is now virtually meaningless) and for a club as ambitious as they say they are, I find them almost unique in this. In the matter of less-than-edifying performers like Gila, or hoary subs like Cafu, I suppose you could take the most uncharitable view and say they're being stingy. In the case of Maldini and Baresi before him, though, it's obviously as advantageous for them to preserve this notion of continuity as it is for the players to stay on.

I find Nesta endlessly fascinating, in relation to his position at Milan. To think that the man now consciously disdaining practically every shot at attention or leadership was the Totti of his club a decade ago - there's something immensely sad about it, although in several important ways getting out of Lazio was the best thing to happen to him.

Spangly Princess said...

getting out of Lazio would be good for anyone