Records are made to be broken. But if one long-held mark is reached as expected this weekend, it will be less a new statistic, more a passing-on of a torch between two legends of Italian football.
Should Paolo Maldini make his 570th Serie A appearance for AC Milan at UC Sampdoria on Sunday, he will equal the tally held by legendary Italy goalkeeper Dino Zoff. Just as Zoff achieved much of what there is to be achieved in football, not least lifting the 1982 FIFA World Cup, the long list of trophies won by Maldini - seven Serie A titles, four European Champion Clubs’ Cups, four UEFA Super Cups, one Coppa Italia, four Italian Super Cups and two European/South American Cups - only hints at what the 37-year-old defender has meant and continues to mean to Italian football.
Zoff, who coached the Italian side captained by Maldini to the UEFA EURO 2000™ final, is more than happy to see his place in the Serie A record books taken by Maldini. "I'm neither surprised nor disappointed at losing my record," Zoff told uefa.com. "Honestly
I think it's a huge honour to be matched by a real champion with such a wonderful career. Maldini is now the real symbol of Italian football."
A one-club player, Maldini has spent his entire career at Milan and made his Serie A debut in 1985 after being promoted from the Rossoneri youth system. Zoff, now 63, made his top-flight debut in 1961 with Udinese Calcio, before moving to AC Mantova, SSC Napoli and Juventus FC ahead of the 1972/73 season. In the Bianconeri shirt he won the Scudetto six times, the UEFA Cup and the Coppa Italia twice.
'Many things in common'
"Our careers have been different and not only because we have played in different roles and in different eras," Zoff said. "But we also have many things in common: I think we have both earned everything through hard work, taking our job extremely seriously and always behaving in the most professional way."
He added: "I admire many things about Maldini, starting with his immense class, which has made him one of the best and most complete defenders in football. But also his professionalism, great preparation and commitment both for his club and the national team."
It was Maldini who in September 2000 equalled another of Zoff's landmark achievements as he won his 112th Italian cap - No111 having been handed to him by Zoff in the EURO 2000™ final, when Zoff's reign as Italy coach ended after France scored a last-gasp equaliser and golden goal. "That game will always remain in my mind and I'm sure even in Paolo's," Zoff said.
While Maldini retired from international football after his 126th appearance, having lost in World Cup and UEFA European Championship finals, Zoff took both honours - the continental title aged 26 in 1968, and the global crown 14 years later as captain.
Zoff wishes that he did not outdo Maldini in this way. "
I'm only sorry about one thing: he won everything with Milan but did not manage to win with the national team," said Zoff, whose international football record of 1,142 minutes without conceding a goal is one Maldini could never have taken. "It's a real pity for such a champion."
That, though, is a rare blip in a career that is far from over, and that seems set to bring Maldini at least 600 Serie A appearances. After all, it was only four months ago that the Milan captain opened the scoring 51 seconds into the European Cup final, his seventh appearance in this showcase event.
But what is the secret behind these long and successful playing careers, which both stretched into three separate decades? "Some rules have changed, and now there are more games every season, but football is always the same," said Zoff. "You can't survive for such a long time at a high level if you are not a strong person. For many people playing so many games can be tiring, but for me it was natural and very stimulating. I guess for Maldini it is exactly the same."
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