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He goes by many names- Il Capitano, Il Eterno, Il Bello, Apolo Maldini. Whatever you want to call him, we all agree that he was The Greatest. It must make many of us who grew watching him play on Milan’s backline for a quarter of a century it’s quite emotional. He will make his ascension among the rest of the football gods in the coming days.

I remember when I first started in organized soccer and I was starting my days as a goalkeeper and the defenders in front of me were capable to say the least. They were physical, powerful, but lacked elegance and dribbling skills. Every time they had the ball in front of them, they would blast it 50 yards up the pitch. I mean our team was good at playing the old school English “kick and rush”. They were lethal in the air.

One day after getting thrashed in an Easter tournament 7-0 (It could have been 31-0, mind you) our coach told my backline that they they had the potential to be really good. If they worked hard and tried not to punt the ball down the pitch, the team could be even more dangerous. He told our left back then that if he was able to keep his poise and look at the game more intelligently, he could one day become Paolo Maldini.

I was not too familiar with him up until they began showing more Serie A games on Univision and it captured my imagination. It was a wonderful time in Italian football and Maldini was the poster child for the future, little did anyone know that he wold supercede any expectations that were set by him. If he would have retired seven years ago, he would have still exceeded expectations. No one in their right mind would have told you 20 years ago that Maldini would jump off everyone’s tongue before a Franco Baresi.

To debut at 15 years of age in Milan’s first team was an accomplishment in and of itself. His rugged elegance made him the player every up and coming defender should become.

Maldini and I would “cross paths” yet again later on in my life when we started this whole Mad About Fútbol experiment back in 2003 when we were then called… Damn! What were we called? I forgot. But that’s besides the point, all that I am saying is that Maldini, Negrini, and I are old as dirt.

Maldini’s resume is an encyclopedia volume all to itself.

All he was missing was a World Cup title; but somehow we felt his spirit present in that Italian team. That backline was very solid. Too solid. It was as is San Paolo was back there protecting

There are idols. There are icons. Then there is Paolo Maldini.