Maldini pays tribute to Maradona and insists Milan ‘is not only Zlatan’ but still ‘have to improve’

By Oliver Fisher -

Technical director Paolo Maldini paid tribute to the late Diego Maradona before insisting AC Milan have ‘fought too hard’ to not qualify for the Europa League knockouts.

Maldini was interviewed before the game against Lille about a number of different subjects, beginning by paying tribute to Maradona.

“It’s hard for those who love football and for those who have played with and against him, he has seen a part of his childhood disappear,” he told Sky Italia (via MilanNews).

“There are many images that are playing in these hours, an emblematic one is the friendly match he played in Acerra on a terrible mud pitch: this image should be shown to those players of today who complain about pitches now.

“I spoke to Diego in a message recently, he seemed to be better. On the pitch he was an incredible opponent, it’s hard to see him like an enemy. You could beat him all the game, but he never complained. He brought so much joy to football. He was a controversial character, you can tell him anything, but for those who love football he will be an icon for always.”

On Maradona’s Napoli: “They were our main opponent, there was great rivalry in those years. They were a great team, with great players, but he raised the level because he was and is perhaps the best player ever.”

Milan will be looking to get some form of revenge when they square off against Lille at the Stade Pierre Mauroy on Thursday night.

The Rossoneri will make the trip with the memory still fresh from earlier in the month when Lille came to San Siro and snapped Milan’s 24-game unbeaten run across all competitions with a 3-0 win.

“We have awareness, this does not mean that we are perfect. We meet a strong team, we know how it ended in the first leg, but we must aim to achieve our goal, which is to get through,” Maldini continues.

“We fought too hard not to get through, it was a long run-up, we can’t throw away the qualification after winning the first two games.”

Head coach Stefano Pioli won’t be able to make the journey with his squad as he is recovering from Coronavirus, while he will be unable to call upon forward trio Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Rafael Leao and Alexis Saelemaekers as all three are injured, so he will be forced into some changes.

On the absence of Ibra, Maldini added: “Milan is not only Zlatan. He made us make the change, but this team has many other good things.

“We have grown thanks to him, but we have already shown that we are competitive without him. Tonight there Leao and Saelemaekers are also missing, but we can make up for these absences.”

On the growth of the group: “We have to improve. Tonight is not decisive, but it is important to get through the round. The team has grown, we have reached this point with many positive things. We have already done a lot, but it is clear that to achieve important things we still have a lot to do.”

Tags AC Milan Paolo Maldini