One of the greatest defenders in history, Milan and Italy legend Paolo Maldini, turns 50 today.

The son of Rossoneri hero Cesare Maldini, the defender began his career in the youth set up of the Diavolo.

He made his debut against Udinese on December 20, 1985; replacing Sergio Battistini at the age of just 16.

Naturally right-footed, Maldini first established himself in the Milan side at right-back, but his skill with his left foot saw him moved across to the other side.

It was there he would become recognised as one of the greatest defenders of all time, if not the greatest, spending his entire career with the Rossoneri and making 902 appearances.

His career coincided with the best period in the club’s history under the ownership of Silvio Berlusconi and with the inspired Coaching of Arrigo Sacchi.

Across 25 seasons with his only club, Maldini won seven Scudetti, five European Cups and the Coppa Italia, not to mention two Intercontinental Cups and the Club World Cup.

He was an equally influential force for his country, winning 126 caps across 14 years – a record at the time, and only surpassed later by Gianluigi Buffon and Fabio Cannavaro.

In terms of trophies his Azzurri career couldn’t match his feats at club level, with Maldini losing in the 1990 World Cup final and the 2000 European Championships, as well as reaching the semi-final at Italia ’90 and Euro ’88.

However, he made 23 World Cup appearances, second only to Lotthar Matthaus, and has played more minutes in the competition than anyone in history.

Maldini played his final game in the final match of the 2008-09 season at the age of 41, in a season in which he had managed 32 appearances across all competitions.

As a sign of respect, the club retired his number 3 shirt – with the caveat that it could be used for either of his sons, Christian or Daniel, both in the youth teams at the time.

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Football Italia staff