An undisputed icon for Milan and Italy, the defender – who shone as both a left-back and centre-back – lifted Serie A and the Champions League in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, while he went on to become the national team’s most capped player – a record which has since been surpassed.
It’s impossible to sum up a player with the longevity and significance of Maldini, so we’ve left it to the players who had the honour of appearing alongside him, and those that had the problem of facing him.
“He was very young, so I tried to give him some advice. But he needed very little; he was already a great player.”
“He’s a real Rossonero. His soul belongs to Milan.”
“Position for position one of the greatest players ever. But unlike certain other great full-backs, he wasn’t world class when just defending or just attacking – he could do both better than most and is an excellent centre-back too.”
“Just an unbelievable athlete. If he wanted to play centre-forward, he could. He literally had it all.”
“He simply never has a bad match. Very difficult to play against, a sublime passer and he’s scored a lot of goals too. Has an incredible physique and is the ultimate role-model. He’ll go down in the history books as perhaps the best left-back ever.”
“His record speaks for itself, both in terms of quality and longevity. Such a classy defender – so tough to get past – and someone it’s difficult not to admire.”
“A real monster… I find it incredible he has never been World or European Footballer of the Year. Alongside Franco Baresi he was the best defender I’ve ever seen in my career.
“Although everybody tends to think of him just as a full-back, he could also play as a stopper.
“Most people remember that great Milan side of the late-80s for its attacking play and for the forward pair of Ruud Gullit and Marco van Basten, but it was a team built on a very solid defence, and Maldini was the cornerstone.”
“There’s never been a better left-back in the game’s history. Two-footed, and at his peak, brilliant going forward.
“The night Milan annihilated Barcelona in the 1994 Champions League Final, he played centre-half, as Franco Baresi and Alessandro Costacurta were both suspended, and looked like he’d played there all his life.”
“Maldini went through the entire 90 minutes without tackling. That is an art and he is the master of it. He is a great player.”
“There are great players and there are world-class players. Then there are those who manage to go beyond that term. Paolo is the perfect example. He is the symbol of Milan.”
“Paolo Maldini is the best. A defender. A peerless defender. The best defender going. Both physically and mentally, he had everything, and the enjoyment he got from playing was as obvious at 40 years of age as it had been the day I first walked through the door at Milan.”
“Paolo Maldini is the best I’ve played against.”
“He was one of the best defenders in Champions League history, but what was so impressive about him is that when he was on the ball he didn’t look like a defender but like an elegant midfield player.”
“Maldini was the best and toughest defender I ever faced. He had everything: he was a complete defender, who was strong, intelligent, and an excellent man-marker.”
“When I think of the current generation, Lionel Messi is top-level. Kaka has impressed, Zinedine Zidane was brilliant but without a doubt, Paolo Maldini has been my favourite.”
“He is one of the best players in the history of the game and he represents everything that’s good in football. And above all, he’s a winner.”
“The most gifted and hard-working player I’ve ever seen. He was an excellent all-round footballer with true leadership virtues and the rare ability to be reliable in defence and creative in attack.”
“I haven’t seen a more determined, loyal player than him. The best captain the Azzurri have ever had.”
“He is the definition of how a captain should be.”
“He is the image of football in Italy, and the world. He’s never won the Ballon d’Or, but I would give him a hundred.”
“In 20 years of soccer, he never did something you remember as bad or ugly.”