Today is a sad day for everyone involved with A.C. Milan and in fact for Italian football as a whole. The patriarch of one of football’s royal families, Cesare Maldini, has passed away at the age of 84. Few families have become indelibly linked to their club the way the Maldini family has with their beloved Milan. For many, the Berlusconi family name may seem most important to the club but long before there was a Berlusconi at the Presidency, there was Maldini.
Cesare Maldini was born in Trieste in 1932 and after playing for his hometown club Triestina, made his way to A.C. Milan where he would make over 300 appearances for the club and captained the Rossoneri to their first European Cup trophy in 1963 after defeating the Benfica of the mighty Eusebio. In all, Maldini won four Serie A crowns as a player for the club. Cesare also made 14 appearances for the Azzurri and travelled to the 1962 World Cup finals in Chile where the National team suffered a first round exit. It was shortly after his retirement from the game that Cesare bestowed quite possibly his greatest ever gift to the Rossoneri, his first born son Paolo.
Legend has it that his son Paolo wanted to start his soccer career and that an opportunity with Internazionale was a possibility. The father never pressured the son, according to Cesare despite his own love and sacrifice for the Rossoneri; he allowed his son to pick his own path, and the rest is history.
Cesare’s great playing career is almost eclipsed by what he was able to give back to the game after his retirement from Torino in 1967. After a couple seasons under Nereo Rocco, Maldini took the reins at Milan winning a Coppa Italia and a Cup Winners Cup between 1972 and 74. Eight years later, Cesare was in Spain assisting the great Enzo Bearzot during the 1982 World Cup finals in which Italy were triumphant. It was perhaps his involvement at the under 21 level where Maldini left his greatest mark on the game (besides his lineage).
Maldini was in charge of the under-21 side which boasted names in the likes of Fabio Cannavaro, Francesco Totti and his own son Paolo, whom he gave his first cap for the Azzurini. Cesare guided the Azzurini to the U-21 European Championship a record three consecutive times during his tenure. It was at this time he made the jump to the senior team when Ariggo Sacchi left the helm after the European Championships in England.
Despite suffering through qualification, Cesare guided the Azzurri to the 1998 World Cup finals in France after a play-off victory over Russia. Cesare brought the Azzurri within a crossbar of the Semi-Finals. Maldini, despite being under quite a lot of pressure from the media and supporters for his defensive style and reluctance to choose some of the more creative players in his set up, nearly knocked the hosts out of the competition after 120 minutes of scoreless football. A Di Biagio penalty miss sent the Azzurri home in the quarter-finals.
Cesare would return to A.C. Milan in 2001 after the exoneration of Alberto Zaccheroni and managed the Rossoneri to their greatest ever victory over their eternal rivals Internazionale. Maldini would also take charge of the Paraguayan national team at the 2002 World Cup finals in Korea and Japan and despite speaking very little Spanish, led the team to the Round of 16 where they were defeated by eventual finalists Germany.
Cesare will be remembered by most who knew him for his jovial demeanour and his love for family and the game. “I had no idea he was unwell,” said Mauro Tassotti, who also lifted a European cup for Milan in 1994. “It’s such a blow for Paolo but also for my family and football as a whole. He was involved in the game for 60 years. I will remember Cesare for his kindness.”
His son Paolo had an illustrious career for A.C. Milan and La Nazionale, winning countless trophies and captaining both. Leadership is a thing the Maldini’s have in common. The name Maldini will continue to be linked with the Rossoneri as Cesare’s grandsons, Christian and Daniel are both in the Milan youth ranks. The dynasty will hopefully continue.