Milan technical director Paolo Maldini says he is "proud" of the Rossoneri's impressive season so far, but has urged the team not to let the chance of a first Serie A title since 2011 pass them by.

Stefano Pioli's men lead rivals Inter by two points at the Serie A summit after Sandro Tonali's 92nd-minute winner secured a crucial 2-1 win at Lazio on Sunday, although the Nerazzurri have a game in hand.

Milan recently kept six consecutive league clean sheets to strengthen their Scudetto hopes, with Sergej Milinkovic-Savic's opener at the Stadio Olimpico representing the first goal Pioli's men had conceded in 568 minutes of league football.

Such impressive form has raised hopes of Milan winning their first Serie A title since 2010-11 this season, and Maldini is proud of the way they have proven their doubters wrong this campaign.

"As a Milanista, I am proud. Proud of the team, the staff, of the way we behaved, and for all the fans are giving us in this moment," Maldini told the club's official media channels.

"When you have a season like this one, the objective is to do the best we can. With the great opportunity we have, we need to aim much higher.

"I remember at the start of the season some didn't even consider us for the top four, but this something we have used as motivation.

"The numbers speak for themselves. We know that, to be here, to be one of the top two over the last two years, we need to keep hold of this spirit of sacrifice, I believe it is our most important characteristic."

Having finished a distant second to runaway Scudetto winners Inter last season, Milan are hunting their 19th league title after going unbeaten in their last 12 Serie A matches. 

Maldini – who won seven Serie A titles and an incredible five European Cup or Champions League trophies during his own glittering Rossoneri career – has called upon Pioli's men to seize the opportunity to make history after over a decade without a title.

"If we've gotten this far, it's due to the fact we've always believed we could," he added. "Even when we didn't communicate it publicly, inside the group we've always believed it.

"And so it should be, because we can't let it go by as an everyday thing. In the last 20 years, Milan has won two Scudetti. We're talking about Milan!

"Winning this year would be an incredible result and when you've got a chance like this, you need to give it your all. Should things not work out, you know you did your very best."

Milan's next Serie A outings sees them host Fiorentina on Sunday, with each of their four remaining fixtures coming against top-half opponents.

Orlando City star Alexandre Pato suggested Milan technical director Paolo Maldini knows the striker is ready to return to San Siro.

Pato is plying his trade in MLS for Orlando, where he is contracted until December 2022, but hinted at his willingness to move back to Milan.

The Brazil international scored 51 goals in 177 appearances for the Rossoneri during his time in Serie A between 2007 and 2013 before joining Corinthians.

The 32-year-old believes he still has what it takes to compete in the Italian top flight, which Stefano Pioli's side lead by two points ahead of Inter, who have played a game fewer.

"Orlando is fine and I still have a contract, but Maldini knows it: I would be ready," he told La Gazzetta dello Sport. 

"Now I have matured, I have a different attitude towards football and maybe I would be useful with the younger players.

"I miss Italy and the Italians, the warmth of the fans. I always say to my wife, 'one day I'll take you to Milan and you'll understand what I'm talking about'.

"For me it was a fundamental city: I learned many things and I miss everything about Milan. And I'd like to go back to Milan, after all in Italy there are many players who are older in Serie A."

Milan and Inter face off in their Coppa Italia semi-final return meeting on Tuesday, level at 0-0 from the first leg, and Pato cannot pick between the two sides.

"It's a difficult one and Milan can't make mistakes,” he said. "They can win the title and beating their rivals in Coppa Italia would give them extra motivation.

"Olivier Giroud is strong, Rafael Leao can make the right moves. The game will be open, it always is against Inter."

As for the future, Pato has great expectations for Milan under the stewardship of Pioli and Maldini.

"I played in a team full of champions," added Pato. "This Milan side is improving and has a bright future because they are building the team well."

Carlo Ancelotti likened Luka Modric to Paolo Maldini as he declared the veteran midfielder would end his career at Real Madrid – also insisting he has no problem with Toni Kroos.

Ahead of a trip to Sevilla on Sunday, Ancelotti spoke glowingly about both midfielders who have put Madrid in a strong position to strike for LaLiga and Champions League glory.

There was a flash point between Ancelotti and Kroos in Tuesday's Champions League clash with Chelsea, when the former Germany international was substituted and was reported to have insulted the coach as he left the field.

Ancelotti stressed that was soon defused, meaning there seems no danger of Kroos and Modric not starting in tandem when league leaders Madrid tackle third-placed Sevilla.

With Madrid edging through to the European semi-finals after extra time, despite losing 3-2 at the Santiago Bernabeu, Ancelotti's decision to bring on Eduardo Camavinga in Kroos' place proved to be justified.

The change had come with Madrid 2-0 behind and facing possible elimination. Modric played the full 120 minutes, and the 36-year-old remains as influential as ever at the heart of the team.

Addressing the Kroos kerfuffle, Ancelotti said on Saturday: "His gesture didn't bother me. He was angry with the coach but not with the person.

"As well as in sport, he is a person with a very high level. I don't need to talk to him or ask for explanations. It's all over after the game."

Kroos, 32, and Modric have been the beating heart of the Madrid midfield, and that is set to remain the case into next season.

Although Modric is now in the veteran stage of his career, Ancelotti sees that as a positive rather than a weakness.

"I think he's going to finish his career here, I don't know when but that's everyone's idea," Ancelotti said. "There is no problem for the club, neither for us nor for him to renew, that is quite clear.

"He takes great care of himself, in his career he has not had any major injuries and that helps him a lot."

Making the Maldini comparison, Ancelotti said: "I had a football legend, who won the last Champions League at the age of 40. If I have to compare him with anyone, it would be with him: for the quality, for the seriousness, for how he understands football. They are legends."

Ancelotti coached Maldini at Milan, having previously played in the same team as the defender who went on to make 902 appearances for the Rossoneri.

Maldini was in fact 38 when he helped Milan to the fifth European Cup/Champions League of his career, but he played on until the age of 40.

Madrid head into Sunday with a 12-point lead at the top of LaLiga, with Barcelona and Sevilla their nearest challengers but both surely now playing for second place.

Ancelotti, appointed for a second spell at Madrid last June, has won six of his seven games as coach against Sevilla in all competitions (L1).

Sevilla, meanwhile, have failed to win any of their past six meetings with Real Madrid in LaLiga (D1 L5), their worst winless run since a 15-game stretch between May 1993 and April 2003 (D2 L13), which is the longest such barren sequence they have suffered against Los Blancos in the competition’s history.

Paolo Maldini is prepared for a change of off-field leadership at Milan after it was reported the club's owners are in talks with potential buyers of the Serie A giants.

Technical director Maldini said it was important to keep a focus on on-field matters as Milan chase the Serie A title.

The club legend, who made a record 902 appearances for Milan as a player, spoke about the possibility of a takeover before Friday's league clash with Genoa.

Milan won that game 2-0 to move top of the table after city rivals Inter briefly went to the summit earlier in the day.

"I know little, but it is normal that in the future of Milan there may also be a sale," Maldini told DAZN. "I don't know when that moment will be.

"A few matchdays from the end [of the season], however, I think it is in everyone's interest to try and think about winning this championship. We also have the semi-final of the Coppa Italia to play."

It has been widely reported that Investcorp, founded in Bahrain, is in talks to buy the San Siro giants from American hedge fund Elliott Management, which is said to be seeking a price above $1billion.

The Financial Times reported Investcorp has secured an exclusivity period set to last for around two weeks.

Milan director Paolo Maldini is eager to learn from past mistakes by tying down Theo Hernandez, Rafael Leao and Ismael Bennacer to new deals.

The trio, who have been regulars for Stefano Pioli's Scudetto-chasing side this term, are under contract at San Siro until the end of the 2023-24 campaign.

However, Milan have learned the hard way about the risks associated with allowing players to run down their contracts in recent times.

Gianluigi Donnarumma and Hakan Calhanoglu departed on free transfers ahead of this season, with the latter joining Milan's fierce rivals Inter.

The Rossoneri also risk losing Franck Kessie without receiving a fee at the end of the campaign, but Maldini is hopeful that will soon be a thing of the past.

"It's not always easy to reach an agreement with players, as we have seen with Donnarumma, Kessie and Calhanoglu " Maldini told reporters on Saturday. 

"But talks are well underway with Theo, as they are with Ismael, and we are talking to Rafa. The intention is to renew with all three soon."

 

Bennacer has featured in 24 of Milan's 26 matches this season, while Hernandez and Leao have been used 21 and 20 times respectively in all competitions.

Leao has five goals and one assist in Serie A this term and ranks third in the division for both dribbles attempted (69) and dribbles completed (37).

Hernandez leads the way for assists among defenders in the Italian top flight this season with five, meanwhile, and Bennacer ranks fifth for successful passes per 90 minutes (66.41) among players to have started at least seven times.

Maldini, speaking at the Associazione Italiana Milan Clubs event, added: "These are all young players and we naturally believe they can continue to offer Milan a great deal."

Zlatan Ibrahimovic wants to stay at Milan for "life" as the evergreen superstar eyes a Rossoneri contract extension.

Ibrahimovic celebrated his 40th birthday in October but the veteran forward has shown no signs of slowing down amid Milan's Serie A title bid.

Out of contract at the end of the season, Ibrahimovic has scored six goals in nine league appearances to help Scudetto-chasing Milan to the top of the table through 16 rounds.

Ibrahimovic has been a revelation since re-joining Milan for a second spell in January 2020 and as the Swede continues to defy 'Father Time', he has no plans to leave San Siro.

"I want to play as long as possible, and as long as I have that adrenaline, I will continue," Ibrahimovic – who was part of the last Milan team to win Serie A in 2010-11 – told Rai Tre's Che Tempo Che Fa.

"Let's put pressure on Milan here to give me an extension and I hope to stay at Milan for life.

"I still have objectives that I can achieve and I want to win another Scudetto."

 

Ibrahimovic added: "I don't know what will happen after football, so I am a little scared to stop. We'll see, but I want to continue playing so that I don't have any regrets."

Milan defeated Salernitana 2-0 on Saturday, with Ibrahimovic watching from the bench.

In Milan's previous victory – a 3-0 win over Genoa on Wednesday – Ibrahimovic scored his 153rd Serie A goal, drawing level with Stefano Nyers and Hernan Crespo in 26th place among the top scorers in the Italian competition.

His 73 league goals for Milan also took Swedish forward Ibrahimovic to 10th in Milan's standings, alongside Filippo Inzaghi.

Ibrahimovic has played alongside Milan great and current Rossoneri technical director Paolo Maldini, and his son Daniel – spanning two generations.

"It's wonderful, we'll see if the adrenaline continues and I can play with Daniel's son as well!" Ibrahimovic joked.

Fikayo Tomori has credited Milan legend and current technical director Paolo Maldini with helping him improve his game after earning an England recall.

Tomori looked destined for a promising future at Chelsea, returning to the club in 2019-20 to play under Frank Lampard having also linked up with him the previous season at Derby County.

In the Championship, Tomori played 47 times as Derby got to the play-offs, and he proved an able back-up option upon his return to Stamford Bridge as he made 15 Premier League appearances – all as a starter – in 2019-20.

But things soon changed, the signing of Thiago Silva at the start of 2020-21 pushing Tomori further down the pecking order – when January came around, he had played in just one Premier League match and was seemingly heading out of the door.

Tomori joined Milan on loan and quickly established himself in the team, striking up a solid partnership with Simon Kjaer. He could not help the Rossoneri to a first Scudetto in 10 years, but they did end their seven-year Champions League hiatus and Tomori's loan was made permanent.

No team in Europe's top five leagues have kept more domestic clean sheets than Milan (eight) since the start of May, and Tomori's role landed him a recall to the England squad, with the 23-year-old lauding the influence of club great Maldini.

Speaking to reporters ahead of England's World Cup qualifier against Andorra, Tomori said: "When he [Maldini] was speaking to me, I was like, 'Wow, it's Paolo Maldini'.

 

"There is that pressure knowing he's watching every game, he's there at the training ground every day, so as a defender I want to impress him.

"When I was midway through my loan, we had a chat, I asked what he thinks about my game, what I need to improve.

"He's really engaging with all the defenders, and having a legend like that around, you're going to listen. It's a nice thing to have him around, and he's been a big help."

For a while it seemed Tomori and Lampard enjoyed a similarly close bond given their time together with Derby and then the Chelsea first team.

But shortly after leaving Chelsea, Tomori said in an interview that he felt the treatment of him by Lampard – who was sacked a matter of days after the defender left – was "personal".

However, Tomori says he has not spent time dwelling on such struggles.

"To be fair, since I've been at Milan I've not really thought about it," he continued. "It was difficult, when you aren't able to play, it is difficult.

"Being able to overcome that, forget about that is part of the reason why now it's going so well. I didn't really dwell on it, I moved on. It's part of football.

"I've a really good support system, and now I've overcome all that I want to keep progressing.

"Every player wants to play, and when that opportunity came at such a big club like Milan, I was so happy, excited, and I'm really happy it's gone so well so far.

"We've started the new season well and the club has shown a lot of faith in me. I'm happy, confident and feeling really settled, and it's led me to be here [back with the England squad]."

Daniel Maldini struggled to describe the feeling of scoring his first goal for Milan as he revealed the "demanding" but positive relationship he has with his father Paolo.

The youngster started his first Serie A game on Saturday against Spezia, 12 years and 117 days after his father, a legendary figure at San Siro, last appeared in a league game for the Rossoneri, and opened the scoring with a second-half header.

Brahim Diaz's late goal cancelled out Daniele Verdi's deflected equaliser to move Milan to 16 points from their first six games, just the third time they have achieved the feat in the three points for a win era.

However, much of the post-match focus was on Maldini, who became the third generation of his family to score for the club, 13 years and 179 days after Paolo's last league goal and 60 years and 22 days since his grandfather Cesare's final strike.

Paolo, who is also a director at Milan, was shown celebrating in the crowd by television cameras after his son's opener and the 19-year-old assured the pair share a good relationship.

"Dad is very demanding, he gives me advice and helps me," Maldini said before discussing the emotions that followed his 48th-minute finish.

"Those were good times," he continued. "I was excited even though I was calm. The teammates help me a lot and the coach too. We took home the three points and this is important."

Milan temporarily top Serie A, thanks in part to Maldini's strike and the fact Napoli play on Sunday, as they prepare to visit Atalanta next weekend.

Maldini will be hoping to star once more if he gets the nod from Stefano Pioli as he admitted he never imagined his first goal arriving in the fashion it did.

"Well, I tried to imagine how it would arrive but not the actual play itself," he told Milan's official website when asked if he had dreamed about the moment.

"It's indescribable, I still have to let it sink in.

"Fortunately, it ended up this way. It's true it felt weird to score with a header but the outcome was great."

Daniel Maldini was on target in his first Serie A start as Milan relied on Brahim Diaz's late winner to edge past Spezia 2-1 on Saturday.

Maldini, son of Italy and Rossoneri legend Paolo, enjoyed a dream maiden top-flight start as he headed Stefano Pioli's side into the lead after the interval at the Alberto Picco Stadium.

However, Daniele Verde's deflected effort levelled things up with just over 10 minutes to go before Diaz restored the visitors' lead in the closing stages.

Milan banished their demons from the shock 2-0 defeat in this fixture last term to move a point clear at the summit, though the chasing pack do have a game in hand.

M'Bala Nzola tested Mike Maignan twice early on, first from range and then from distance, but the Milan goalkeeper parried both away before Theo Hernandez whipped a free-kick narrowly wide.

Ante Rebic should have opened the scoring from Sandro Tonali's corner but his free header was wayward as Milan failed to make their 62 per cent first-half possession pay.

However, Maldini – appearing 12 years and 117 days after his father Paolo's last league appearance – powered a header home three minutes after the break from Pierre Kalulu's delivery to open the scoring.

Rafael Leao – one of Piolo's two-half time changes – looked to have added a second but he was denied by the right-hand post before Giulio Maggiore turned over from point-blank range following Simone Bastoni's teasing cross.

Leao again went close moments later as he dragged an effort wide to the right and Milan's failure to kill the game off came back to haunt them.

Verde twisted and turned before firing a low left-footed strike, which hit Tonali and left Maignan powerless to stop Spezia from drawing level in the closing stages.

Diaz proved the late hero as he ghosted into the area to turn home Alexis Saelemaker's low delivery and secure the win for Milan.

Milan director Paolo Maldini has confirmed Olivier Giroud is close to joining the Serie A side from Chelsea.

The France international has spent the past three and a half years at Stamford Bridge and recently had a 12-month extension in his contract triggered by the Blues.

Giroud was restricted to just 12 starts in all competitions last season, yet he still finished as Chelsea's top scorer in their Champions League-winning campaign with six goals, and only Timo Werner and Tammy Abraham (both 12) scored more goals across all competitions.

Milan are reported to have agreed a €3million (£2.56m) fee with Chelsea, offering Giroud, who represented France at Euro 2020, a two-year deal.

"Olivier should arrive tomorrow," Maldini told DAZN on Wednesday. "Olivier is a champion. He's done great things with France and Chelsea.

"He is a very reliable player and that's what we are looking for, as we have the youngest squad in Serie A, so we need some with more experience."

Giroud will become the second player to make the switch from Milan to Chelsea this window after the Italian giants took up the option to make Fikayo Tomori's loan deal permanent.

The 34-year-old is expected to lead the line for Stefano Pioli's side in the absence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who is recovering from a knee injury which ruled him out of Euro 2020.

Goalkeeper Mike Maignan has also joined from Ligue 1 champions Lille as a replacement for Gianluigi Donnarumma, who has signed for Paris Saint-Germain.

After spending last season on loan at Milan, Sandro Tonali also arrived on a permanent deal from Brescia earlier this month.

The Rossoneri did lose playmaker Hakan Calhanoglu to rivals Inter, though they are reportedly close to striking a deal with CSKA Moscow for Croatia international Nikola Vlasic, while Everton's James Rodriguez has also been linked.

Milan finished as runners-up in Serie A and will begin the new campaign away at Sampdoria on the week ending August 22.

Lionel Messi will have the option to bring his long-standing association with Barcelona to an end in a matter of hours.

The 34-year-old's Camp Nou contract is set to expire on July 1, leaving him free to move on from the club where he has spent the entirety of his 17-year professional career thus far.

Fortunately for Barca, that outcome looks unlikely, with recent reports suggesting that the Argentina great is on the verge of agreeing fresh terms.

Should Messi put pen to paper on that extension, it will increase the possibility of him joining the ranks of players who spent their whole careers at just one club. 

Here, we take a look at five of football's most celebrated one-club men.


Paolo Maldini (AC Milan)

Indisputably one of the greatest defenders of all-time, Maldini made his Milan debut as a 16-year-old in 1985 and spent the next quarter of a century at San Siro, winning seven Serie A titles and five Champions Leagues.

Ryan Giggs (Manchester United)

Like Maldini, Giggs progressed from prodigious young talent to distinguished elder statesman as he represented United from 1990 to 2014. Two Champions Leagues and 13 Premier League titles sit among an astonishing 34 honours amassed by Giggs across 963 senior United appearances.

Francesco Totti (Roma)

Totti bid an emotional farewell to Roma at the end of the 2016-17 campaign after 786 competitive appearances and 307 goals – matching Maldini's record of appearing in 25 Serie A seasons.

Carles Puyol (Barcelona)

A long-time team-mate of Messi's and the captain of Pep Guardiola's mesmeric treble winners of 2008-09, Puyol won six LaLiga titles and three Champions Leagues. With 593 appearances for Barcelona to his name, the defender sits fifth on the club's all-time list behind Sergio Busquets, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, and the outright leader Messi on 778.

Matthew Le Tissier (Southampton)

A mercurial forward with a knack for scoring improbably audacious goals, Le Tissier was regularly linked with the leading lights of English football during his 1990s heyday. He remained loyal to boyhood club Southampton to cement icon status on the south coast, although a mere eight appearances for England provides a talking point about what might have been possible had he not resisted offers from bigger clubs. 

Gianluigi Buffon has called time on his second spell at Juventus, concluding a defining playing association with the Serie A giants.

There may only be three clubs on the goalkeeping great's resume but sustained excellence over more than two decades has filled his trophy cabinet with individual and team honours. 

The former Parma prodigy has rubbed shoulders with the very best in world football throughout that time, forming part of Serie A, Ligue 1 and World Cup-winning sides.

In honour of Buffon's stellar career, we have compiled a star-studded group of former team-mates for a dream XI.

 

GOALKEEPER: GIANLUIGI BUFFON

Who else has the pedigree to don the gloves in such a side?

A five-time member of the UEFA Team of the Year, he boasts more Serie A clean sheets than any other player and, as captain of his country from 2010 until his retirement in 2018, would have no trouble bringing this team together.

RIGHT-BACK: LILIAN THURAM

Having been joined by Buffon at Parma after his switch from Monaco in 1996, Thuram followed his team-mate in making the move to Turin ahead of the 2001-02 campaign.

The 142-time France international, part of the side that tasted glory at the 1998 World Cup on home soil and won Euro 2000, spent five seasons at Juve before rounding out his career with a spell at Barcelona.

CENTRE-BACK: FABIO CANNAVARO

Buffon's inheritance of the Italy armband from Cannavaro in 2010 completed the striking symmetry of their careers.

They both made their Parma debuts in 1995, did the same for Italy in 1997 and were reunited at club level when Cannavaro, one of few defenders to win the Ballon d'Or, joined Juve in 2004. They also lifted the World Cup together in 2006.

CENTRE-BACK: ALESSANDRO NESTA

A long-time rival at club level, Nesta was part of the famous Milan defence that beat Juve in the 2002-03 Champions League final – he scored his penalty against Buffon in a 3-2 shoot-out victory – and triumphed again four seasons later.

He was named in the Team of the Tournament at Euro 2000, which Buffon missed through injury, but the 2006 World Cup success will undoubtedly be the highlight of his career.

LEFT-BACK: PAOLO MALDINI

With admirable longevity, loyalty and leadership, classy defender Maldini set the path that Buffon has so impressively followed.

The long-time Rossoneri skipper, a seven-time Scudetto winner who also lifted the European Cup on five occasions, Maldini was the only player to have managed more Serie A appearances than the veteran keeper until his Juve return.

CENTRAL MIDFIELD: ANDREA PIRLO

Has there been a more iconic duo of the modern era?

Pirlo was already at the top by the time he swapped Milan for Juve, but he saved plenty of his play-making brilliance for Buffon and friends as the Bianconeri re-asserted themselves as Italy's top club with a run of successive Scudetti that stretched to nine before being ended by Inter this season as their reunion as player and head coach did not yield similar results.

CENTRAL MIDFIELD: PAVEL NEDVED

Nedved's blend of athleticism, tenacity and well-rounded technical ability made him close to the complete midfielder.

He helped Czech Republic to the final of Euro 1996 and his value to Juve was summed up by a Ballon d'Or victory in 2003.

ATTACKING MIDFIELD: ROBERTO BAGGIO

Less than two years after a 17-year-old Buffon held Baggio and Milan scoreless on his senior debut for Parma, the pair were sharing the same shirt for Italy.

Two of the Azzurri's greatest were in the same squad at the 1998 World Cup, although Buffon would ultimately go one better than the 1993 Ballon d'Or winner, who suffered final heartache against Brazil at USA 94.

ATTACKING MIDFIELD: ALESSANDRO DEL PIERO

He stands as an equal in the pantheon of Juve luminaries.

Buffon and the majestic Del Piero combined to help the Bianconeri finish top of Serie A on five occasions, while they lined up for Italy together for over a decade and experienced World Cup glory together

FORWARD: CRISTIANO RONALDO

Ronaldo joined Juve as Buffon embarked upon his hiatus with Paris Saint-Germain. The five-time Ballon d'Or winner was supposed to add Champions League glory to domestic dominance and now Juventus have neither.

Nevertheless, Ronaldo's individual form has remained imperious. In 127 appearances for the Bianconceri, he has 97 goals at a rate of a goal every 113 minutes.

FORWARD: KYLIAN MBAPPE

They were only together for a year but the France phenomenon is a performer to compare with many of the greats to have shared a dressing room with Buffon.

Fresh from 2018 World Cup success with France, Mbappe scored 39 goals in 43 appearances for PSG in 2018-19, averaging 90.25 minutes per goal and boasting a shot conversion rate of 22 per cent.

Gianluigi Buffon has confirmed he will leave Juventus but the Italy great says he might not be ready to retire.

The 43-year-old returned to Juve in 2019 following a season away at Paris Saint-Germain and has been second choice to Wojciech Szczesny since.

Buffon's announcement on Tuesday arguably did not come as a surprise; however, the fact he is still contemplating playing on may have raised some eyebrows.

If he does continue his playing career, whoever his next employers are will certainly be able to count on plenty of experience and knowhow.

Buffon is one of the sport's few stars who have played top-level football into their fifth decade.

Here are seven other legends who set an example for Buffon to follow with their remarkably long careers in the game.

 

RYAN GIGGS

The ultimate one-club man, Ryan Giggs stayed at Manchester United for the entirety of his glittering career. He managed to slowly transform himself from a rapid, tricky winger into a cultured central midfielder in the latter years of his playing days, helping to extend his time on the pitch beyond the age of 40. Giggs won an extraordinary haul of medals at Old Trafford, including 13 Premier League titles, four FA Cups and a pair of Champions League crowns. He played in 632 Premier League games, scoring 109 goals, with only Gareth Barry topping his appearance tally. Giggs worked as Louis van Gaal's assistant at United, having taken charge on an interim basis following the sacking of David Moyes, before going on to take charge of his country in 2018. He has been temporarily replaced as Wales boss after he was charged with assaulting two women last year, allegations that Giggs denies.

PAOLO MALDINI

Paolo Maldini was still going strong for Milan beyond his 40th birthday and, like Giggs, he only ever played for one club. Seven league titles and an incredible five European Cup/Champions League wins headline a litany of honours that Maldini helped marshal at San Siro, playing across their near impenetrable back four for almost 25 years. Maldini, son of another Milan legend, Cesare, is one of a select group of players who made over 1,000 appearances in all competitions during their career. Today, the former Italy man is back at Milan, acting as their technical director.

KAZUYOSHI MIURA

Kazuyoshi Miura is still playing, at the age of 54. That the Japanese striker made his debut almost 10 years before Buffon begins to tell part of his incredible tale. Known as King Kazu, Miura plays for Yokohama FC in Japan's top flight, becoming the club's oldest ever player at 53 in September last year. The oldest player and goalscorer in the history of global professional football, Miura is regarded as one of the finest Asian players never to have featured at a World Cup, although he made 89 appearances for his country.

 

STANLEY MATTHEWS

Before Miura snatched them off him, Stanley Matthews held the records for being both the oldest professional footballer and the oldest goalscorer in the game. Matthews - the Wizard of Dribble - made nearly 700 league appearances for Stoke City and Blackpool in a career that spanned three decades. The 1953 FA Cup final is regarded as the Matthews Final, even though Blackpool's Stan Mortensen scored a hat-trick. Matthews won the first European Footballer of the Year award, while he was officially capped for England 54 times, although he also played a host of unofficial wartime games for his country.

DINO ZOFF

Goalkeepers often play deep into their thirties, but not many captain their country to World Cup glory at the age of 40. But that is exactly what Dino Zoff did at the World Cup in 1982. He made 40 appearances in World Cup finals and qualifiers in total, while as a coach he led Italy to the final of Euro 2000. It must be something about Juventus, as Buffon's current club is also where Zoff spent the best years of his career, winning six Serie A titles.

RIVALDO

Best known for his spell at Barcelona in club football, Brazil great Rivaldo was still playing beyond his 40th birthday, albeit only briefly. Rivaldo came out of retirement to sign for Mogi Mirim, the club where his son Rivaldinho was also on the books. Rivaldo picked up two LaLiga titles at Barcelona before continuing his European adventure with Milan, winning the 2002–03 Champions League with the Rossoneri. But it is as a Brazil international that Rivaldo is best remembered, having been a key part of the side that won the World Cup in 2002.

 

ROGER MILLA

Roger Milla became the World Cup's oldest scorer when he hit the net for Cameroon in 1994 at the age of 42, having announced himself at the same tournament four years previously with his famous corner-flag dance. Milla's four goals at the 1990 World Cup helped Cameroon to reach the quarter-finals of the tournament and he is fondly regarded as one of Africa's greatest ever players. Remarkably, Milla regained the African Footballer of the Year title 14 years after he first won the award.

Milan technical director Paolo Maldini has announced all contract negotiations have been put on hold until the end of the season after goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was allegedly confronted by supporters.

According to Italian publication Il Corriere della Sera, Donnarumma was left in tears ahead of Milan's clash with Benevento on Saturday after being given the ultimatum of signing a new deal or sitting out next week's key clash with Juventus.

The Italy international has spent his entire senior career at San Siro, racking up close to 250 appearances in all competitions, but he is due to become a free agent in June after failing to agree fresh terms and has been linked with a move to Juve.

Maldini is not happy with the way the club's fanbase has gone about pressuring Donnarumma into signing a new deal, however, and has made the decision to curtail all discussions with the goalkeeper for the time being.

"It is important to firmly reiterate that nobody outside of Milan can decide who stays at the club and who renews," he told ANSA. "Choices regarding what happens on the pitch are down to the coach, while the club is in charge of contractual issues.

"From this moment, every single negotiation for new contract renewals is frozen until the end of the season so that the team can focus solely on the league. In the meantime, we will continue to protect our players, as we always have done."

Veteran striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic signed a 12-month extension last month, leaving Donnarumma and Hakan Calhanoglu as the two remaining high-profile Milan stars soon to be out of contract.

Milan led the way at the top of San Siro for a large part of the campaign, but they are now battling for a top-four finish after losing back-to-back matches prior to Saturday's 2-0 win against Benevento.

The Rossoneri, who are left focusing solely on Serie A after being eliminated from the Europa League at the quarter-final stage by Manchester United last month, have accrued 69 points in the league this term - their most in a single campaign since 2012-13.

Stefano Pioli did not take the opportunity to highlight Milan's involvement in the European Super League saga as a distraction after their 2-1 defeat to Sassuolo.

The Rossoneri were among 12 elite clubs - including three from Serie A - to sign up for the controversial breakaway competition on Sunday.

An angry response from fans, players, coaches, governing bodies, governments and the media prompted several outfits to rethink, though, with England's 'big six' all backing out on Tuesday.

Milan followed suit on Wednesday, confirming their withdrawal just five hours before kick-off against Sassuolo.

With their place in a continental tournament no longer secured as a result, Pioli's side have work to do to qualify for the Champions League.

Milan are second but the loss to Sassuolo, having led through Hakan Calhanoglu, opens the door for fifth-placed Napoli to close to within three points if they win their game in hand against Lazio.

Giacomo Raspadori was Sassuolo's two-goal match-winner, but Pioli chose not to look for an excuse.

"It did not affect us," he told Sky Sport. "We did not let ourselves be distracted by anything.

"We are focused on our goal. These are things that we have not decided and we have not talked about."

Pioli was asked about comments made by Milan technical director Paolo Maldini before the game in which the Rossoneri great apologised for the club's Super League involvement despite insisting he had no knowledge of the discussions.

"I don't think anyone could have had any doubts about Paolo's moral integrity," Pioli said.

"He has many values, he expressed himself for what he feels. If he said those things, it means that he has these feelings."

Maldini had said: "I have never been involved in the discussions related to the Super League.

"I only heard the news on Sunday, like all of you, through the joint communications that have been published.

"It's something that's been decided at a higher level than my role. In any case, this does not exempt me from taking responsibility for apologising to Milan fans who have felt betrayed in the fundamental principles of sport that we have always respected."

He added: "It is normal that in 2021 a manager [director] of a great team cannot fail to know that revenues and sustainability are important concepts.

"But if we can learn a lesson from this story it is to have understood how far we can go.

"[We can] definitely not change the principles of sport that consist of meritocracy and dreams that must be guaranteed to everyone."

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