Paolo Maldini, one of the greatest defenders of all time, played all 25 seasons of his pro career with one club, AC Milan. He won seven Italian league titles and five European Cups with Milan. He played 126 times for Italy, 74 times as captain, and took part in four World Cups. He was in New York City recently for the announcement of games for this year’s International Champions Cup presented by Heineken, for which he’s an official ambassador along with Sir Alex Ferguson.
SI.com: What did you achieve in football that you are the most proud of?
Maldini: When I was a kid, I wanted to be a football player. So I achieved my dream. That’s the most important thing. And also as a man, I’ve been respected from everyone. So I can see now, especially that I stopped playing, that people respect me a lot. So as a man, that’s my goal.
SI.com: Who was the player you most admired in your career?
Maldini: My teammate Franco Baresi was a real captain. He was an example for everyone. Not a big talker. He never talked (smiles). But on the field or in training he was No. 1.
SI.com: Who was the best player you ever played against?
Maldini: I have to say [Diego] Maradona. Because he was Maradona (laughs). And also on the field he was a very nice guy. Very respectful. And after him, maybe Ronaldo the Brazilian was the best one. The two years he played for Inter before his injury, he was very, very, very good. I also played against [Zinédine] Zidane, [Michel] Platini…
SI.com: They were pretty good (laughs). You didn’t score a lot of goals in your career, but do you have a favorite goal?
Maldini: My first one, maybe. We played Como, a team in Serie A, and we won 1-0. I scored the goal. I don’t know how I was there. I still remember Mr. [Silvio] Berlusconi [the Milan owner], gave me a beautiful watch. I wasn’t able to score much since then!
SI.com: Best manager you ever had?
Maldini: I’ve been lucky with managers, because I started and my manager was Mr. [Nils] Liedholm, who really loved me. He loved young players, and I made my debut when I was only 16. Then also after him I had [Arrigo] Sacchi, and I learned a lot from him. Then after him I had [Fabio] Capello, so it was a mix of great coaches. Then I also have my friend [Carlo] Ancelotti. And the end of my career was great, because he’s a great man and a great friend, so we had a lot of fun together. And I also had my father [Cesare] as a coach. So I had my father on the Under-21 team and during the World Cup in France in 1998—and also in AC Milan for four months. So it was a weird experience, because having your father as a coach is pretty weird, and I was the captain. But he was great.
SI.com: Best teammate you ever had?
Maldini: Baresi for sure. But I also had [Marco] Van Basten. Van Basten was the most complete player I ever played with. I also had Kaká, [Andriy] Shevchenko, [Ruud] Gullit. I don’t even remember how many teammates I’ve had (laughs).
SI.com: What is the best advice you ever received?
Maldini: I received a lot of advice. My father used to give me a lot of advice. Baresi also, because I was very young. I was only 16, I was a baby. So I was playing with men. Sometimes I’m skeptical, but then you go home and you think about what you heard and you see that what they say, people with experience, is good.
SI.com: Who is your favorite player in the world today?
Maldini: [Lionel] Messi for sure. Because he’s unique. He does things with balls that no one else can do. And I love seeing him play. And also [Cristiano] Ronaldo is a great player. But Messi is something special.