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The Thousandth Plus One

 
 
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> The Thousandth Plus One
YaarMere
post Mar 10 2008, 07:17 PM
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Nice article:

QUOTE
Normally football is a sport in which many things scape from the numbers and avoids falling into the tempting statistics. While many other disciplines can be easily perfectly resumed in numeric data (number of yards, percentage at bat, etc), the real nature of football is closer to an art than to a science.

But, there is also in the "kicking business" there are exceptions, in the sense that you can find numbers that enclose in themselves a great deal of significance and value. Around these days, personally, I'm going crazy thinking about the number 1000, the number of matches Paolo Maldini has reached Saturday in Parma. A 1000 matches of the which, please read carefully, 981 as a starter and 916 fully played. Of those, 861 were played wearing the rossonera and 139 with the azzurra (126 matches with the senior team, 12 with the U21 and 1 with the Olympic).

The first match was January 20th, 1985: Maldini was 16 and half years old, his date of birth June 26th, 1968, which implies that also in June, when its been announced he'll be retiring, he'll be about to turn 40 years old.

I don't think it's relevant to make reference to the large list of his triumphs, a lot of triumphs that speak of an extraordinary career from that aspect. But what I'm interested in now is that 1000: I want to try to understand what is exactly behind a number like that.

In first place, there is doubtlessly an extraordinary sportsman. It's not a case that, when we ask him, shows us in the love for the sport and the respect for the opponents as the values that he inherits, meaning those he recognizes as important in his character and career.

That must be why no insult, no hasty declaration, no angry protest against a refereeing, no fights with a teammate and even less with a coach has been seen or heard from Paolo. That is why it's impossible to consider him a fool: in Milan's dressing room, for a long while now, he's the indisputable leader and many ask themselves if Milan will be able to assimilate his retirement, at a group level, the absence of their captain.

No, this form of proceeding has been precise and a voluntary election and would be naive to not think of that as the reason as to why he's been able to continue such a long athletic career: on the contrary, one thing is very attached to the other. You can't achieve 23 years of career at the highest level without special seriousness and conduct.

But that is the most visible aspect. An aspect that could pass without being seen would be the enormous love for the game that all of this implies. When in Athens the captain lifted the Champions League trophy, he could have retired with all the glory, but he stayed in the game saying: "I'd like to win in Tokyo because I'm still hurting from the last defeat there." Destiny was so honorable that offered him the chance to get even against the same rival, boca juniors.

A thousand games mean also a thousand concentration, a thousand or more nights away from his family, wife, 2 sons, the commodities of his own house. A thousand games imply many thousands of trainings and uncountable kilometers in trips around the world. It also implies many different teammates, different styles, educations, nationalities and characters: but not one of them has had even the smallest thing to say against him. He's been coached by the mythic Swedish Liedholm, Sacchi, Capello, Ancelotti, his own father Cesare in Milan and also the NT, and many more, but we can't remember any of those coaches that wasn't absolutely satisfied of having him as a player and also as a referent in the dressing room.

Adding all of these, Paolo Maldini is an example, maybe we could say " the Example", like that with the capital E. If someone has to describe how an ideal sportsman should be, a real champion, good, that is no doubt Maldini. Strong technically and from the athletic point of view, to the point of being without doubt the best defender of all times, physically integer, because he never suffered a major injury, educated and thoughtful, respectful and emotionally settled, firm and authoritarian on his own matters but without meddling in things that don't have to do with him and his main reason for notoriety.

Like he said himself, "I didn't make of myself a different personality and this has been appreciated by the people". Impossible to make him talk about politics, movies, fashion, culture, of anything else that's not about his competition: he never wanted to win protagonism in different aspects taking advantage from his notoriety. Also, even though he's been the undisputed idol and sure the maximum flag of his club, he never took advantage of that to win any type of immunity or privilege.

Well, who's writing these lines thinks that the sport should be a factor of growth and development of the human being, a concept that lately, with doping and bets, exasperated professionalism, publicity, TVs, fashion shows and similar, has become really difficult to achieve. Guys like Paolo Maldini (or Javier Zanetti, to give another example) represent, from that point of view, the tangible demonstration that this battle isn't lost yet.

While I'm writing these lines, Paolo Maldini is about to go down to the pitch once more, this time against the terribly frightening Emirates Stadium, where kids roughly half his age will try to make him have a difficult night. But it will be difficult before someone who, in his life, has already done the thousandth and one...

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YaarMere
post Mar 10 2008, 07:53 PM
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