As they've lived through a number of difficult seasons recently, AC Milan fans would find it difficult not to reminisce about happier times when their beloved club was the envy of European football, winning trophies at home and abroad at an incredible rate.
The badge on the sleeve of their current kit highlights the fact they have won the European Cup/Champions League on seven occasions, putting them behind only Real Madrid, while only one club has won the Serie A title more times than the Rossoneri.
But while there are so many great memories for fans of Milan, it is impossible to look back on them without remembering one name; Maldini.
Put simply, no other family carries such a legacy, a true dynasty which began when Cesare Maldini first pulled on the black-and-red stripes back in 1954, a physically commanding defender who went on to become captain of the club.
Making over 400 appearances, he led the side to the first of their European Cup victories at Wembley in 1963 and won 14 caps for Italy. After his retirement, Cesare’s ability to read the game made him an excellent coach and his time on the bench included being assistant to Enzo Bearzot as the Azzurri won the 1982 World Cup before taking charge of the national team himself in 1996.
Part of the team during that spell was, of course, Paolo Maldini, a son following in his father’s footsteps for club and country. Cesare was a beloved figure and an exceptional player, yet his son would surpass him in almost every way, starting out as a full-back before moving into the same central position his Dad once filled.
He too became the club Captain, outdoing Cesare further still as he lifted the same European Cup/Champions League trophy on no fewer than five occasions. Paolo set new appearance records for Italy and Milan, but more importantly, he raised the bar by becoming widely recognised as the finest defender of his generation.
Like the city of Milan, the name Paolo Maldini is synonymous with elegance, style and class, qualities the player embodied every time he stepped on the field. In 2007 he was named Europe’s best defender despite being 39 years old at the time, playing two more seasons before stepping away and seeing the Rossoneri retire the no.3 shirt he had worn with such distinction for more than two decades.
It is into the shadow of that legacy that Paolo’s son Daniel now walks, the 18-year-old making his full debut for Milan earlier this month against Hellas Verona. But make no mistake, he is not being handed an opportunity because of his surname or family heritage, and nobody can attest to that more than his brother. Christian Maldini, after also shining in the Rossoneri academy was unceremoniously released in 2016 and currently plays in Italy’s lower leagues after a forgettable stint in Malta.
In stark contrast, Daniel was identified as a promising talent by his grandfather almost ten years ago. “Cesare once said to me that Daniel was a good player, small but good, and had something a bit different to normal players,” former Milan youth sector boss Mauro Bianchessi told La Gazzetta dello Sport recently. “He told me to have a look.”
Daniel was signed up by Bianchessi the following week and did not disappoint. Perhaps the most surprising part of his story is that, unlike Cesare, Paolo or even Christian, he is an attacking player, used all across the trident of the Milan Primavera’s 4-2-3-1 formation, but perhaps most at home in the central role.
It is from that position he has weighed in with nine goals and five assists this season, form that led to first-team boss Stefano Pioli handing him that debut against Hellas. Watching him in action, the coach cannot fail to have missed Daniel’s desire to dominate matches, constantly seeking out the ball and then move it quickly upfield.
"He is a playmaker, a goalscorer, a No.10," Paolo Maldini told DAZN when asked about his son’s playing style. "Of the family, starting with my father and coming to my son, he is the only one with those attitudes. He is more of a poet with the ball.
"He's a little ambidextrous like me. In him, I see my character and see myself physically by how he moved as a child. A bit like the people who saw my dad in me. That, I believe, is absolutely genetic."
Out of possession, scouts have been impressed with his intensity in pressing to win it back as well as, unsurprisingly given his last name, his tactical and positional awareness. He has represented Italy at Under-18 level and undoubtedly has the attention of current Azzurri boss Roberto Mancini as he continues to progress.
One man who has already noticed is Gigi Buffon, the iconic goalkeeper swapping shirts with the young Maldini to add it to his already impressive array of memorabilia. “In my collection I have Enrico Chiesa and his son, George Weah and his son, Paolo Maldini and his son,” the Juventus star told RAI Sport. “Now I’m waiting for their grandchildren!”
He could also give the youngster some advice on adding to family legacies too, given that his own relative Lorenzo Buffon was the goalkeeper for Milan when Cesare Maldini made his own debut in 1954.
Now, an incredible 66 years later, the name “Maldini” is once again on the team sheet at San Siro. Daniel has a lot to live up to.