With retirement looming, AC Milan's Paolo Maldini knows that falling short at Arsenal FC could spell the end of his amazing adventure in the Champions' Cup.
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Paolo Maldini was on the winning side the last time he faced Arsenal FC, and the AC Milan captain is desperate to do so again because failure would spell the end of his extraordinary adventure in the European Champion Clubs' Cup. "If we go out, I know I've had an incredible career," he said.
Maldini is in the final season of a glittering career that has taken in myriad accolades, honours and appearances, including seven Italian titles, five European Cups and as many UEFA Super Cups. It was in the last-mentioned competition that he met George Graham's Arsenal in February 1995, earning a 0-0 draw at Highbury before overcoming them 2-0 at San Siro. The 39-year-old defender sees different opponents in Arsenal now, though, and considers them much more of a force to be reckoned with.
Cause for optimism
"You can't compare this Arsenal side to the one I played all those years ago," he said. "This is a completely different side, a young side that likes passing the ball. And neither can you compare them to the Liverpool [FC] sides we have played in Europe recently. Liverpool play the long ball a lot more while Arsenal prefer the ball to feet. It will be a really tough match because they are the league leaders. But we come here as European champions and our record in this competition and our history mean I have every cause for optimism."
Maldini will have to contend with an Arsenal attack spearheaded by Emmanuel Adebayor, who has scored 22 goals in all competitions this campaign. Although the 23-year-old has yet to get off the mark on the European stage this term, the Rossoneri stalwart identifies him as a threat. "Adebayor is a very tall player but he is fast and very skilful with it. Years ago it wasn't so common to find players of his build with such pace and skill but nowadays you see them more. The fact he plays in this footballing side has helped his development and we'll have to watch him."
If anyone can cope with the tall Togo international, it is the much-decorated centre-back who has marked everyone from Diego Maradona to Peter Crouch. Maldini celebrated his 1,000th match as a professional on Saturday and is eager to pitch for his sixth, and Milan's eighth, European crown. "I have every cause for optimism because we have been here before. We come here as European champions and have a great record in this competition. We are better now than we were this time last year because we have won the UEFA Super Cup and the [FIFA] Club World Cup, which are not to be trifled with."
However, even Maldini knows that his European odyssey might end sooner than he would like, however blessed he has been throughout his career. "In theory this could be my last away game in Europe," he admitted. "Hopefully, it won't be. But if we do go out, I know I have had an incredible career. From a footballing point of view it has been unrivalled, so I can't really complain."