Paolo Maldini: Sporting Mastermind of Milan's Scudetto

Milan's Scudetto win is nothing short of a miracle. For a team that had the fifth highest wagebill in the league, one of the youngest squads, the most injuries, and then lost so many points due to egregious referee errors, it literally seemed impossible. Yet thanks to the magical combination of belief, grinta, and hard work, a team built by the genius of a Milan legend was able to accomplish the impossible. All of this while barely making a ripple in the January mercato, too, although rivals made major waves and splashed big cash to reinforce at a crucial point in the season. The Scudetto was won by a collective of hearts, minds, and hard work, but Paolo Maldini was the mastermind who put all of that into action.

The mastermind behind Milan's Scudetto win

Inter's CEO of Sport Beppe Marotta has cited regrets about Inter falling short of winning the league and admitted they will have to sell at least one more expensive player this summer to try to balance their budget amidst talks with UEFA over FFP violations. Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri, having finished fourth, still insists that his team were stronger than teams that finished above Juve, yet clearly seems lost as to why or how this happened. Napoli owner Aurelio De Laurentiis specifically mentioned that Milan won the Scudetto with a wagebill €40 million lower than Napoli's, yet his team finished behind Milan in third. 

All of them are missing three crucial components in their sporting sectors that Milan have exclusively in Maldini: first, the genius and sporting vision he has, despite being a brand new director. Secondly, the trust he instills in his players directly by having an individual relationship with each one and attending trainings at Milanello regularly. Lastly, the ingredient that none of them could ever have: pure Milan DNA. 

Maldini's vision for Milan created this team

Sporting Vision

When Maldini returned to Milan, Elliott and Gazidis had a vision of a young team that they could build and develop into champions, a project they hoped would take about three years. Maldini told them they would also need a balance of experience. When he and Leonardo asked for the return of Ibrahimović in 2019, Gazidis blocked the deal. 

Maldini had to fight for what he believed in, with casualties along the way, such as losing Boban and nearly having Pioli and/or himself replaced by Ralf Rangnick. But in the end, Ibrahimović did return, and Maldini's vision for a talented young team with experience was exactly the formula that created the magic to not only return to the Champions League, but also win the Scudetto. Sure, he made a few errors along the way (we all remember Giampaolo,) but his mercato win ratio is already much higher than that of any other director I can think of.

Maldini knew what Ibrahimović knew: Milan needed him

Since taking over as Technical Director in 2019, what he has accomplished is nothing short of incredible. Outside of Milan, it may have gone under the radar until we actually won, but even in his own words, other directors must feel absolutely ashamed of their work in comparison:

"The 21 players we signed under my tenure came at a net cost, between sales and purchases, of €75 million. When I decided to stay after Leonardo left, I had in mind a higher budget, but if I can use ideas and let the club save money, I will."

The quality of players Maldini has brought in, both young and experienced, is incredible

To put that into perspective, Juventus spent €80 million on a single player, Vlahović, in January alone. Milan only spent €4 million on Lazetić in January to replace the departing Pellegri, despite being in a tense Scudetto race and having so many injuries. Last summer was Milan's biggest mercato, spending to make permanent or bring in a total of 11 players, which solidified this winning squad. 

Initially criticized for allowing the free transfers of players like Gigio Donnarumma, Hakan Calhanoglu, and now Franck Kessié, his professional and even classy management of those deals, along with the success of Maignan and the entire team has quieted those critics. It is difficult to criticize someone who refused to hold the club hostage to agent and player wage demands, and who has created the most enviable and sustainable, while also successful team in Europe.

He infamously brought in Maignan, reinforced with Tomori, and Kalulu surprised when needed

Trust in His Players

The trust and influence that Maldini has instilled in this team individually and collectively is immeasurable. Beginning with that phone call, which all of the players have talked about getting, Maldini is one of those "certain types of names" that immediately influences a decision about coming to Milan. Theo Hernández is a perfect example of a player who has been directly mentored by Maldini, who played the same position in his career at Milan. How fitting it was to see them celebrating together in the dressing room after winning the Scudetto at Sassuolo. 

The "idolo" mentor

When you see Maldini at Milanello, which is often, it is clear that he has a personal relationship with each player. Despite his legendary status, they greet one another as family and speak openly. Maldini himself emphasized this part of his role as a director. He said "I realized young players need to be given opportunities and make them feel confident even in difficult moments. Many of them see me as a second father." Everyone from the players themselves to Pioli to Gazidis to people like Fabio Capello have recognized the importance this has played in the development of this team and their success through good times and bad.

Maldini's trust in Pioli has brought out the best in him

While Gazidis went behind Maldini and Boban's back less than two weeks after they hired Pioli and began talks with Rangnick, Maldini put his faith in Pioli from day one. Even when his own job was at risk, he kept that faith and stood up for Pioli, and has continued to transmit that confidence personally and publicly ever since. Pioli clearly had the mentality and skills to do the job, but Maldini's never wavering faith in him also contributed to the success of this team, allowing the manager to win his first major trophy.

The reward for everyone's dedication, patience, and hard work

Milan DNA

Juventus have Nedved, who throws tantrums... well, I suppose he does represent Juventus' DNA, but had they embraced Del Piero as a director, I think Juve fans would agree that he would more accurately reflect the values they would like to see leading their club. Inter have Zanetti, but he was always too good for them and clearly does not carry enough weight to actually influence their sporting decisions or values. Roma kicked Totti out, who was the closest that any other club had to someone like Milan have in Maldini, and even still, he was a one off in their history.

Second generation, captain, and Milan DNA

Paolo Maldini is second generation Milan, a legend in his own right, Capitano to everyone who watched him play during his career, and father to a current Milan player as well. His father, Cesare, also played, captained, and coached Milan. There is no stronger DNA at any club than the Milan DNA in the Maldini family. He represents the character, values, heart, and core of what it means to wear the Milan shirt, which is why he alone has been able to transmit those values to this next generation of Milan players.

And Daniel now makes the third generation of Milan DNA

Paolo Maldini said that he never planned to become a director, either, he only did it for his love of Milan. So powerful is his influence that any potential owner must pass the Maldini Litmus Test in order to have a chance at being successful. Fans who watched him play knew that his return would bring success, that he would show everyone what it means to win again. That is a guarantee that he brought with him by birthright, by right of his career on the pitch, by who he is as a person, and because of his Milan DNA.

Even the "mercenaries" worship him now

This Scudetto win was a collective of faith, hard work, and heart from the fans to the players to the coach to the management and everyone in between. But the sporting mastermind behind all of it was Paolo Maldini. He had the vision, the trust, and the Milan DNA to bring this club back, not just from ruin into relevancy, but from devastation to actual success again. And he did it in record time, as well. Other clubs, who are doing business as usual, have been left in the dust, scratching their heads as Maldini took a club run by relics and brought it into a modern, sustainable, and very enviable sporting model practically overnight. They can try to repeat his success, and they may make some improvements, but at the end of the day, there is only one Paolo Maldini.

This post inspired by the music of Aretha Franklin's "Respect"

Paolo Maldini: Sporting Mastermind of Milan's Scudetto Paolo Maldini: Sporting Mastermind of Milan's Scudetto Reviewed by Elaine on 11:00 PM Rating: 5
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