With Sunday's Serie A game at ACF Fiorentina set to be his last for AC Milan, 40-year-old Paolo Maldini told uefa.com the Rossoneri philosophy has "always been about working towards beautiful and spectacular play".
The prospect of a tearful farewell never appealed to Maldini, but he may struggle to keep his emotions in check at full-time in Florence, the whistle marking his last appearance. Along with the No3 shirt he has worn for much of his 25 seasons with the club, a spell that has bought 26 trophies including five European Champion Clubs' Cups. However, he will also be eager to avoid his big day being underscored by disappointment – should Milan lose, they would concede third place and a UEFA Champions League group stage slot to their hosts.
Whatever happens, Maldini – like his father Cesare – will be remembered as one of the team's great captains, a fact he underlined by his lifting the European Cup in 2003, 40 years after his dad did the same. "My father was the captain of this team so it was already a special club for me," he said. "Since the arrival of president Silvio Berlusconi we have had 20 years at the top in Italy and Europe, but the spirit of this club comes from a long time before that.
"Milan have always had great players and a style of play that is beautiful. It's always been about working towards beautiful and spectacular play. This is a philosophy that has been integral to Milan since the 1950s, stretching from the decisions that the president made back then to the ones Berlusconi makes now. It's a philosophy that may seem a bit understated at times but is part of our existence as a club."
While he has played alongside some spectacular talents, it is his predecessor as captain – Franco Baresi, whose No6 shirt has also been retired – who impressed Maldini most. "I have played with so many phenomenal players but if I had to choose one then it would be Baresi because he taught me so much," he said. "He set my example, not only because he played in a similar position but for how he dealt with being captain in a dressing room full of such strong characters."
As far as great moments go, the 2003 UEFA Champions League final, in which Milan beat Juventus 3-2 on penalties after a 0-0 draw, is hard to beat, though a 6-0 derby win against FC Internazionale Milano back in May 2001 runs it close. "That one was very special for my family, because my father was on the bench at that time," he recalled. Milan can only hope that youth team player Christian Maldini, Paolo's son, will end his playing career with similarly fond Rossoneri memories. Indeed, should either he or brother Daniel make the grade then even the No3 shirt will come out of retirement – it may be farewell rather than goodbye from Maldini.
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