Maldini's Quest

Since retiring as a player, Maldini has longed to return his Milan to the glory he remembered as both a player and captain. The road has been long and riddled with people who did not have Milan's best interests at heart. He has outlasted a rogue spending sporting director, a couple of coaches, and the threat of losing the entire sporting sector to some unemployed German guy. He even survived the surprise Super League and somehow managed to talk the management out of it. But his quest has one major element left: returning to the Champions League. Milan stand on the brink of that return, yet also stand a good chance of missing out after three years of hard work from Milan's former captain.

His vision and his work

Maldini had wanted to return the the club ever since 2009, but Galliani blocked his return. Then Yonghong Li and company offered him a job, which he declined because he didn't believe in their project. He was completely right about that project, too. Ironically, when Yonghong Li defaulted on his loan and Milan fell into the hands of a hedge fund, they presented him a plan that he did believe in. So in 2018 he returned. And gratefully, nothing has been the same since. 

His first year was spent working with the Sporting Director, Leonardo, as the Director of Sporting Strategy and Development. When Leonardo couldn't get the blank check he wanted for players, and Gattuso failed to make Champions League by one point, both of them resigned at the end of the 2018-19 season, Maldini was promoted to Sporting/Technical Director. It was like a dream come true when he convinced Boban to quit his job at FIFA and join Milan as Chief Footballing Officer. Together, the two Milan legends were able to bring in so much young talent, as well as bringing Ibrahimovic back. Maldini brought in players like Theo Hernandez, Bennacer, Hauge, Tonali, and Leao. The players all talked about "certain types of names" calling them and being willing to come to Milan just because of the legendary players' influence.

Wisdom and encouragement to inspire Milan DNA

Their biggest mistake was hiring Giampaolo, but they quickly remedied that by bringing in Pioli. Well, there was also Boban revealing Gazidis' secret plan to bring in Rangnick, whom the CEO had talked to only a couple of weeks after Pioli was hired. Maldini's project to build a young Milan team with experience stood in the balance, even though it had been going very well. But Gazidis fired Boban, and then COVID-19 hit and everything shut down. 

Maldini could have walked away when Boban was fired, but he stayed and fought, because he believed. Pioli and the team proved the importance of keeping Maldini by going unbeaten from the return of football through the end of the season last year. Milan were enjoying success both on and off the pitch. Well, mostly... Gazidis saw unprecedented losses last summer and also lost Boban's wrongful termination suit in December. Meanwhile, Maldini continued to cut the squad size, cut the wagebill, and Milan continued their unbeaten run in the league through January. 

Second time's a charm

News broke last week that while other clubs were struggling just to pay their players, Milan's losses were cut in half. Which would still be about the same amount as Yonghong Li's losses, and more than Berlusconi ever lost in a single year. Yet thanks to Maldini, the club has saved €110 million on players' salaries alone. In spite of this, Elliott and Gazidis signed on to the failed Super League project, without even telling Maldini. Along with some pressure with UEFA, Maldini seems to have talked some sense into them about that.

Even as Milan's young team started to struggle with results on the pitch, it seemed that Champions League was a certainty for Milan next year. Until it wasn't. Sunday's draw with Cagliari left everything hanging on our away match with Atalanta this week. While Atalanta have the Coppa Italia final on Wednesday versus Juventus, they are also the only team that Pioli has not beaten in his tenure at Milan. 

With Champions League, Gigio would likely stay...

As much as this is distressing for fans who have been through everything the past ten years,  I can only imagine the weight on Maldini's shoulders. Pioli said not making Champions League would be a disappointment, not a failure, but fans probably don't share his view. And Maldini may be judged more harshly by management as well. This is his project, and he has brought so much joy back to Milan. He has instilled the Milan DNA into so many of these young players. And his project is so close... only three points away. Or, we must wait yet another year, and who knows what underhanded thing Gazidis will do next? 

This Sunday, Maldini will not be able to take the pitch to guide the players to victory and Champions League qualification like he once did. But he is definitely doing everything in his power to inspire Pioli and the players to fulfill this next stage of the project. Milan fans everywhere know what is at stake and what the odds are, and it is difficult to be optimistic. But if there is one person to believe in, it's Maldini. He has fought through so many unnecessary crises, and personally built a team that is young and exciting. If Milan manage to pull off the win on Sunday, it will be a fulfillment of Maldini's Quest.

This post inspired by the music of Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'"

Our next match is
Serie A Week 38
Atalanta vs. Milan
Sunday, May 23 • 20:45 CEST (2:45pm EDT)

Maldini's Quest Maldini's Quest Reviewed by Elaine on 12:58 AM Rating: 5
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