Saying Arrivederci To Serie A's Greats
Today, on the last weekend of the Serie A calender of 2009, and on the last occasion 3 greats walked onto the pitch as a professional footballers, we finally came to that day we knew would eventually have to come.
Now, I'm not Serie A's biggest fan by any means, particularly since the Calciopoli affair, but I am not ignorant to the point that I will not pay homage to the greats of the modern era who played their last games today, in what was once the greatest league in world football.
They are namely: Luis Figo(Inter), Pavel Nedved(Juventus), and of course, literally the grandaddy of them all, Paolo Maldini(Milan).
Where to begin?
In Figo's case, you could easily argue he made his name before his wildly successful stint with Inter. (which involved four Scudetti, three Supercoppas, one Coppa Italia) Nonetheless Figo, although usually having more of a squad role than the case with his previous clubs, has contributed to Inter's domestic success over the past few seasons.
As a former World player of the year(2001), Ballon D'Or winner(2000), Galactico and Portuguese Icon (now succeeded by Ronaldo in this role), he will be remembered as a great of the game, but probably more so for his exploits with Real Madrid and Barcelona than in Serie A.
Pavel Nedved is on the other hand made his name completely in Serie A. After backing out on an agreement to join PSV to join Lazio. Nedved would go on to become one of the world's top players during the late '90s and early noughties.
His prime was arguably reached in 2003 where Juventus made it to the CL final and won Serie A (1 of 3 Serie A medals for Nedved). He also won the Ballon D'Or that season and both the overall and foreign Serie A player of the year awards.
Likewise for the national team, Nedved had captained his country to their most successful stint since the fall of the Iron Curtain reaching the Euro 2004 semis and generally being considered the perennial dark horse of the European international scene.
Juventus fans will be forever in debt to him. When the chips were down, Nedved was one of the few foreign imports that chose to stay and play in Serie B after Calciopoli. Another true great of the modern European game.
But the man most around the world have been paying homage to is, quite simply, a legend; in this authors opinion the greatest defender of all time and easily one of the greatest players of all time, Paolo Maldini.
Many footballers are unable to emulate or better the achievements of their fathers, but Cesare Maldini has been well and truly surpassed by his son Paolo. (Anyone know what Jordi Cruyff has been up to recently?)
126 Italian caps, 902 club appearances, seven Serie A's, and an incredible five European Cups. His career reads like a dream for any Italian boy aspiring to become a professional footballer and rightly so.
He is the footballers footballer.
Its incredible to think the Maldini involved in that, now era defining, drubbing of Barcelona by Milan in 1994, was the same Maldini that lifted the European cup in 2007 having vanquished Liverpool.
Like Giggs at Manchester United, he has been a constant, where teams, players, and football in general have changed around them. Being part of one great team is a dream come true for most footballers, but being a part of more than one grat team is phenomenal.
It will be truly odd watching Milan take on Europe next season with their unrivalled captain to lead them but although he will not be their physically on the pitch for his former teammates and fans, he has left a legacy at Milan that nobody will ever replace.
For Italy he reached the final of the 1994 World Cup where The Divine Ponytail was to famously blaze over the bar ending Italy's dream against their historic rivals Brazil on penalties. He came closest to winning an international trophy at Euro 2000 where 2 late goals ended a tightly contested final.
Although he retired in 2002 (after controversial refereeing decisions) in that years World Cup there are rumours of the record cap holder and record cap holder as Italy's captain to return for one final match.
Whether this happens or not the number 3 shirt at Milan will be retired in honour of Italy's finest ever player.
So where next for Serie A?
Cannavaro, Del Piero, Totti, and Inzaghi will undoubtedly follow, saying arrivederci within a season or two, but at the moment there is clearly a dearth of homegrown talent willing to step up to the plate and take their place.
Maldini's retirement along with Figo's and Nedved's may be the end of an era for Serie A. A symbolic closing to a time when the giants of Serie A bossed European football and were able to attract the best and brightest talent to its shores.
Finally, I just want to give my thanks to the players mentioned for the many footballing memories they gave me. They will be remembered fondly by supporters all over the world.
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