We’re all celebrating the ten year anniversary of our last Champions League victory today. The Daily Mail are the latest to tip their hats to the celebration. Earlier this week, they put former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher and former AC Milan star Paolo Maldini in a room together.
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The result, was a highly entertaining back and forth between the two players, in which they discussed every aspect of the famous match in Istanbul. Maldini also revealed that Manchester United were keen on acquiring his services, as were Arsenal and Chelsea, before he decided to commit to Milan.
Unsurprisingly, the pair had much to discuss, ten years on from the greatest European final of all time. Maldini scored the opening goal for his side, who charged into a 3-0 lead before our comeback famously began with Steven Gerrard’s powerful header.
Vladimir Smicer and Xabi Alonso completed the comeback before Jerzy Dudek’s heroics brought the famous trophy back to Merseyside.
You can read the full interview transcript – courtesy of the Mail – here:
CARRAGHER: Here we are 10 years after we first played against each other in the Champions League final. Now things are very different to 2005 and both of our teams have struggled this season. It hurts me when Liverpool lose – are you the same with Milan?
MALDINI: Of course! I started there when I was 10 and finished when I was 41. My father, Cesare, was captain, my kids are in the academy now. Milan is not just a team for me. It is part of my life. My family loves those colours. But you know what? When I see it (like it is now), I feel sad. We built with other great players something unique and they didn’t realise the importance of the men and the people. You know what? Only Franco Baresi works there now. No other former players. That is sad. Milan have a great tradition and they completely let it go. So the new generation, they do not understand. There is all that history of the club but now it is different.
CARRAGHER: Do you think, when you are watching, that you would like to help?
MALDINI: I would love to! I received a lot of things from my club. I gave them my passion and my body because I cannot walk now (laughs)! But I’d just love to give back something, to give them my experience. The kids are not so bad but they need someone who can give them the right way to follow… but I don’t think it is going to happen.
CARRAGHER: When I was growing up, Milan were the team. I used to watch the teams of Arrigo Sacchi and Fabio Capello on TV all the time. Last week, when I was in Madrid, I saw Sacchi and he was speaking about you and that team. What influence did he have on you?
MALDINI: He was very tough. Training used to be a little bit crazy. He’d work you hard, then work your mind. He would make you repeat the same things over and over, especially defenders. Every day we’d do the same thing. But if me, Baresi, (Alessandro) Costacurta and (Mauro) Tassotti meet each other now, we can still play as we did in the 1990s. It is stuck in your mind. That was one of the secrets of our success. It helped the Milan legend to continue. That team played at that level (raises hand in air) for so long. I won my first Champions League in 1989 and I won my last one 18 years later. But now? It’s a pity.
CARRAGHER: So, Paolo, are we OK to talk about Istanbul?!
MALDINI: Yes, of course! I didn’t sleep for three months after it but, come on, let’s go.
CARRAGHER: Does the game get spoken about in Milan?
MALDINI: Yes, sometimes. If you watch the first half, you cannot imagine we would lose. But sometimes people don’t remember – you will because you were there – it wasn’t only in the first half we played good. It was only six crazy minutes. After that, we started to play again and we had chances to score. I remember Steven Gerrard playing as a defender. People on your team were physically destroyed.
CARRAGHER: I watched the European Cup final when you beat Steaua Bucharest 4-0 in Barcelona in 1989. Your performance was possibly better in Istanbul?
MALDINI: We couldn’t have done anything better. The crazy thing is we arrived in Milan and the supporters were waiting for us. They were screaming: ‘What have you done?!’ We put everything into it. We played maybe our best final, with the exception of 1994 (a 4-0 win over Barcelona). I thought it was my last chance to win it and it had gone. And the game was crazy. I scored – I scored! It was the quickest goal in a final!
CARRAGHER: At half-time, you were leading 3-0. Could you believe how easy it had been?
MALDINI: I know a story came out that we celebrated at half-time. You know that it was impossible. When we got into the locker room it was crazy. People were screaming at each other, like they were fighting. So Ancelotti turns to everyone and says: ‘Shut up! For five minutes, I don’t want to hear any of you! I don’t want to hear one word!’ So we completely shut up, we calmed down and then we started to talk about what we had done good, what was not so good and we started thinking about the second half. That was it. Inside, I thought to myself, ‘We have a big chance’, but I didn’t say anything. Nobody did.
CARRAGHER: If you are losing 3-0 to a team you know you are better than, you always have a chance. But this was AC Milan! I was thinking: ‘4-0 Barcelona; 4-0 Steaua Bucharest; this could be five or six.’ What do you think changed?
MALDINI: You know, something happened in the second half – your fans. They started to sing and sing. Don’t forget usually the stadium is 50-50 but it was 75 per cent Liverpool, 25 per cent Milan. Our fans had sold their tickets to Liverpool fans. I remember the first goal. I could see Gerrard and (Jaap) Stam and I was about to shout: ‘Be careful! He’s coming!’ But then I didn’t say anything. Then the ball comes in and Gerrard scores. I say to myself: ‘Oh s***! Why didn’t you say something?’
CARRAGHER: Was the second goal (from Vladimir Smicer) the turning point for you?
MALDINI: Yeah. That changed a lot. All of a sudden, you are one goal from the tie. But when it got to 3-3, we started again and we had chances. The psychology of the game can change when you get to 3-3. Maybe you started to think you had something to lose.
CARRAGHER: What of Gerrard’s performance in that game? He played three different positions. Do people still talk about him in Italy?
MALDINI: I still remember his face and the pain he was in from cramp but he was still going around tackling everybody. He put everything into it. For you guys, he was an example for all the others.
CARRAGHER: It must have been so difficult when we were celebrating. There is a picture of you shaking my hand. Even after all you had won, I could still see hurt in your face, but you were still able to show class with your reaction.
MALDINI: You have to accept the result, even if it is so sad for you. But we were also lucky because two years later we got a small chance for revenge. We didn’t play that good in Athens but we won.
CARRAGHER: Did you want to play Liverpool again in 2007 then after what had happened?
MALDINI: No. Noooo! We didn’t play well in that final. We had not played well that whole year, in fact, but when we got to the quarter-finals it started to get better. Still, in that final, we had everything to lose. Another defeat by Liverpool would have been a real tragedy. But you cannot choose your opponents. I hadn’t played for three months before and in the final my knee was completely gone. I wasn’t able to play that game and Ancelotti knew it. But I tried. I took so many painkillers in those three months! And it is funny – I don’t remember too much about that game.
CARRAGHER: Neither do I. I’ve never watched the game. Not once. When you lose something that big . . .
MALDINI: All I remember is lifting the cup. We celebrated for 36 hours. After the party finished, I went straight to a surgeon in Belgium. My knee had completely gone. What I do remember most is waking up after the anaesthesia, probably another 24 hours later. I started thinking to myself, ‘Did I win? Did I win?’ Ten seconds later… ‘Yes! We won!’ It was crazy.
CARRAGHER: So that was your eighth final and your fifth win. Which was your best victory?
MALDINI: (Francisco) Gento also played in eight finals (for Real Madrid), but he won six. Still, my record isn’t too bad! Each victory was different. The first was special because it was the first. We played in Barcelona in front of 90,000 AC Milan supporters. Arriving to the stadium was the greatest experience I have had in my life. It was like for you in Istanbul. Great, great. Then Barcelona in Athens was also very good.
CARRAGHER: Which was the best AC Milan team you played in? The 1989 one with Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit or the one five years later?
MALDINI: Everything started with Sacchi. The three Dutch players coming in. But when Capello came in, we had great, great players. From 1991-94 that was probably the best one. Every year we bought big. We had Gullit on the right with Tassotti behind him. Van Basten, (Daniele) Massaro, (Jean-Pierre) Papin, (Zvonimir) Boban, (Dejan) Savicevic. Wow. It was something else.
CARRAGHER: Is Van Basten the best you played with or against?
MALDINI: Oh yes. Right foot. Left foot. Heading, so strong, fast. He could score, he could pass the ball. He was the best. The way he played was timeless. He had to quit when he was 28. Surgery. Stupid surgery to the ankle. It was such a pity.
CARRAGHER: And how about the best defender? How big an influence was Baresi on you? Was he the boss of the defence? What made him special?
MALDINI: That’s exactly it. He was special. He was a short, skinny guy but so strong. He could jump so high. The way he played on the field was an example for everybody. He wasn’t a big speaker, no, no, no. The way he played, the way he trained was an example. He wasn’t like Stam, a big guy who was strong and fast. He had pace, but he was only 70kg. But let me tell you – when he hit you with a tackle, he was so strong. For me, he was the role model. He was a reference. He was also very good with the ball. Very, very good. It is very hard to find a good defender, who is strong and good with the ball. Very hard.
CARRAGHER: In England, when I was growing up, children who wanted to be defenders would say your name or Baresi. There were others like Lilian Thuram, Marcel Desailly and Fabio Cannavaro. What do you think of the standards now?
MALDINI: There are no more defenders. A great defender makes the market much more than a striker. Also you know what happened? I used to play at left back. Now a left back is judged only on what he is doing with the ball. They don’t think about what they are doing in defence. They are just watching what you are doing when you are attacking. I know that the hard part is defending. I know it because with Sacchi everyone was defending, from the strikers to the goalkeeper. In Italy, we had a great tradition for defenders, but now we don’t have any more. I don’t know why. I believe that Thiago Silva is the best in the world right now.
CARRAGHER: Did you ever have a chance to come to England and is there any part of you that regrets not coming? Everyone would have been delighted to see you in the Premier League.
MALDINI: I had an offer from Manchester United, but I didn’t speak directly to them. Luca Vialli, when he was Chelsea manager, called me. That was in 1996. We’d had a very bad season. There was also something from Arsenal, but I never spoke to them directly. I would have said no anyway. Vialli was a friend of mine and he was the only one who made me think. I had some problems with my team and the supporters at that time. I thought, just for one day, ‘What if?’ But then, no.
CARRAGHER: You also had the chance to coach at Chelsea.
MALDINI: The offer came only one week after my last game for Milan. I wasn’t ready. I didn’t want to move my family to London. I went there. I spoke to Mr Abramovich. I spoke to Ray Wilkins, who I had played with at Milan. I don’t know. I decided not to do it.
CARRAGHER: So what do you think of football in England then? And do you ever see a time when Italian clubs will dominate like they did in the 1990s?
MALDINI: Yes, I watch. It is still England. You are still physically strong. You have teams like Manchester City and Liverpool and they play the ball. But it is a completely different league to anywhere else. You have great players that cannot play over there because the league is too (physically) strong. For Italian clubs, it is going to take a while. There is less money. Horrible stadiums. You have to cut the problem with violent supporters. Families with their kids don’t go any more. They say Milan are trying to build a new stadium, but I don’t know if it will happen. Also I believe Milan needs a stadium bigger than 45,000. It needs 60,000 at least if you want to go back to that level. The San Siro is still beautiful, but it is very old.
CARRAGHER: But I want to see Milan back – it is just the name, the kit, the history. I feel the same about Liverpool.
MALDINI: I want to see it too, you know. All our historic rivals, Real, Barcelona, Liverpool – I want to see Milan up there. It is nice to play these teams with great histories. It is very sad when you see them going down.
CARRAGHER: If you don’t know what the future holds for Milan, what does it hold for you? You have just launched a project in Miami, but do you see yourself being a manager?
MALDINI: No. I don’t like it. I really don’t like it. I still go to most of the Milan games with my friends. I love football. But I’m probably not going to work with Milan. For the moment, I’m a father full time. But a chance to work again with Milan? For me it would be giving back something.