Paolo Maldini, a defender par excellence

Widely regarded as the greatest defender to have played the game, Maldini was adept at both full-back and centre-back positions.

Fondly known as 'Il Capitano', Malindi was considered as the heartbeat of both the club and the country.

If there was a line-up for the greatest players to have never won a World Cup, Paolo Maldini would probably be the first name one on the teamsheet.

Widely regarded as the greatest defender to have played the game, Maldini was adept at both full-back and centre-back positions. For a defender standing at 6'1", the Italian was known for his technical ability which aided him in manoeuvring the ball out of danger without having the need to kick it out of play in desperation. 

 

Maldini once said, "If I have to make a tackle, then I have already made a mistake". But, when required, Maldini was on hand to make those last-second tackles.   During the first half of over a two-decade-long career, it was his positioning as a left-back which made him stand out.

In the words of former Manchester United managerial great Alex Ferguson, Maldini's defending was an art form. And his mastery sustained for 22 long years. Fondly known as 'Il Capitano', Malindi was considered as the heartbeat of both club and country. At a tender age of 19, he made his debut for the Azzurri in 1988 and retired from international football at 33 after a controversial exit in the Round-of-16 of the 2002 World Cup.

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In between that, he captained Italy for over eight years. Unlike his decorated club career at AC Milan, he bowed out from the international stage with no trophies to his name. 

In the 1990 World Cup on home soil, a 21-year-old Maldini was part of a defence which managed five consecutive clean sheets before failing in the lottery of the penalty shoot-outs in the semifinals. That side still holds the record for the most consecutive minutes without conceding a goal. 

His finest achievement in an Italian shirt would be the way he deputised and marshalled the side to the final of the 1994 World Cup, with the likes of legendary defender Franco Baresi and right-back Mauro Tassoti injured and suspended, respectively, through the course of the tournament.

Although, Baresi made a swift return to the team in the final alongside Maldini to help restrict the Brazilian strike duo of Romario and Bebeto from scoring, Italy once again suffered the heartbreak on penalties.