"Defeat is part of the game"
Interview by Antje Luz Follow @antjeluz
1041 caps, 26 trophies, 1 gentleman: Paolo Maldini, 46, has been AC Milan´s best defender, and is a soccer legend up to this day. The Italian record player made his debut in 1985, aged 16, when manager Niels Liedholm sent him on the pitch, saying "Play, it´s a game." Paolo did, with his extraordinary class, until he said good-bye to the pitch 24 seasons later, aged 41.
In 2005, AC Milan faced their worst defeat ever. They were about to win the Champions League final in Istanbul, leading 3-0 in the first half. After the interval Liverpool scored three goals within six minutes. Draw. Penalties. Milan lost. Watching captain Paolo Maldini passing by the trophy with his face turned down was heartbreaking. I was wondering how he would possibly deal with this dream in his hand´s reach, and then watching it depart to the UK. The next morning I called AC Milan´s press office and requested an interview with their symbol. Five hard-working months later, Paolo Maldini and I were sitting on a sofa in Milanello (AC Milan´s training ground) and he answered my question:
Antje Luz: How do you overcome defeat?
Paolo Maldini: Defeat is part of the game, therefore you have to accept it as such. I believe, as a sportsman, defeat is a normal thing. He who has sports spirit, let´s say of a certain level, has to accept defeat. Only from there you can depart to a new victory. You have to try to avoid it, since we professionals play in order to win, but defeat is part of the game. This applies also in life.
In which regard?
It is the same in life. Maybe in different terms, but you can also here talk of a game, even though defeats in life are a lot more painful and they are more difficult to overcome.
And so how do you overcome them?
You try to learn from your mistakes, because behind every defeat is a mistake and then you restart from there... When focusing on the future you can´t concentrate too much on the past, which applies for both good and bad things. Or maybe: Preserve the positive things, even in the most difficult moments.
Such as May 25, 2005?
That was a defeat, which hurt but when you get to the point to know that you´ve done your best, and knowing that in soccer, in sports in general, something unforeseen can always happen...
What´s more like you: Regrets for having done something or tears for not having done something?
Neither. Mistakes belong to what we´re doing, and they are important in order to improve, in order to grow. Apart from this I had such a beautiful life so far, that I cannot speak of regrets or of tears.
Umberto Agnelli, so they say, once issued you a blank check asking you to join Juventus for any sum you´d like to have. You refused the offer. Where is your connection with AC Milan rooted in?
I was born in Milano, my father played at Milan, my family lives in Milano - and family and being close to them has always been important to me...
You didn´t want to miss your mother´s risotto?
I didn´t want to miss my mother! Apart from that, I found here such an important club like Milan, with important objectives and everything: A great stadium, a wonderful team, the possibility to win a lot - why should I have left? I was entirely happy because I was able to reach my sport goals: Be a player in the national team, be an important player, not only in the club but also in the world... It would have been absurd to leave.
Michel Platini initiated the world cup in France in 1998, in 2006 Franz Beckenbauer organized the world cup in Germany. When may there be a world cup in Italy under your aegis?
(laughs) It is already difficult to hold a world cup in Italy, which would be fantastic, but ... Hum... I cannot think about it. But I do not say it´s impossible!
Are you also in life a defender, or a striker?
(laughs) In my soccer life I have been born as a striker and therefore maintained some characteristics of a striker. I am not a big defender in life, even though I am a great traditionalist, because I am very fond of my family regarding the values my parents passed on to me and which I want to pass on to my children: The importance of family, for instance, I believe is important in any profession, for any person, especially when having such an intense life as I am living.
What´s your definition of soccer?
Soccer means fun to me, and passion. Soccer is a group´s game and teaches not only to think of oneself but also of the colleagues. You learn a lot of things while you train in soccer compared to individual sports.
What is more important: Formation or the beautiful game?
The technique! And its application.
Which ball did you use as a child?
I had a leather ball, or one made of paper and adhesive tape, which I used inside the house not to ruin the furniture.
Is there anything that someone can do better than you?
(laughs) I say NO, ok?