I would have never imagined those two words together.
The Peter Pan of football seemed so indestructible. Milan knew him and he knew Milan for a quarter of a century when team mate Ronaldinho was but 4 years old and Alexandre Pato had not yet seen one living day.
On Sunday, after 900 matches for Milan, his last match will be against AS Roma at the San Siro. It will be emotional and tears will flow freely. A fin de siecle moment for the Rossoneri everywhere in the world.
His retirement comes at the crossroads of a Milan team that has pushed its few able bodied players to the limits. At Pyrrhic cost, they have till now, managed second place.
Where they do they go now without their talisman?
He is the last of the golden quartet of backs that defined Milan's incandescent rise in the 80s and 90s. Maldini, Costacurta, Baresi, and Tassotti, defined by their longevity, fealty to one club, and suffocating defense. Between them they logged close to 2400 appearances, won eight Scudetti and five CL titles.
Baresi was the canny leader, the visionary who taught them all: Costacurta, the technician, Tassoti, the enforcer. Maldini, the most photogenic of the four, who Maradona infamously said of: " Another great player who chose the wrong profession. He should have been an actor; he's too pretty to play football" turned out to be the most durable. The emotional force in a waning Milan side. A bookend to a yesteryear of beautiful memories and stirring moments.
How many years before someone like Maldini comes along? The answer can be found looking to their crosstown rivals.
The same question was posed to Inter when Giacinto Facchetti, legend; four time Scudetti winner in the 1960s and all around Mr Nice Guy, sent off only once in his 634 matches, retired after 18 seasons. His number three was retired. Seventeen years later on, Javier Zanetti provided the answer, joining Inter in 1995. He recently played his 600th match and on the day Milan lost to Udinese, won the same number of Scudetti as did Facchetti. He is good for another 5 years at the rate he is going.
Goodbye Paolo Maldini. We are sure there will be fewer of you the way the game presently goes. It is left to the pundits to shine accolades on your place in the annals of performances. For us, you will be cherished, on the simple fact that you were never part of the transfer rumour mill and remained faithful to your club.