Saying Goodbye

I started this text with the presupposition that on Sunday, there can be no winner for me. Should any of the two likelier of results incur - a home win or a draw - it would ensure that Roma's season ends on a fittingly blue note, as the risk of dropping out of even the new depressing creature that is the Europe League would grow ever more. An unlikely away win for Roma would see Paolo Maldini lose in his last home game, after 900+ games in his team's shirt. A win would also exponentially lower the odds of him suffering in his performance, which is understandable after near twenty five seasons. Also, did I mention the 900+ games which surely causes accumulative damages to a forty year old body, scarred by a quarter of a century spent in the higher levels of football?

But then I re-considered and revised my entire attitude towards the game. Rather than watching the game ever fearful that he might fail in some moment of the game, I embrace it, come what may. I say that knowing that any such fears on my behalf - that a bad mistake would somehow taint Maldini's career, his legacy - are misguided. The oft present air of fear surrounding legends in the twilight of their career; that stay just long enough to embarrass themselves is one I can't detect in connection to this particular game. Even given the fact that every spotlight in San Siro and every media source following a ball in Western Europe, will be on Maldini. Even given that there will be special shirts on sale commemorating the event that is the day the world saw the greatest defender there ever was walk away, into the exit. That very notion, that the few games we happen to watch at the end of illustrious careers, mercilessly snatched out of context, somehow diminishes the importance of what had come before, is ultimately nothing if not self-important and superficial.

After all the remorse in the press over Maldini not being able to face Del Piero in 90 final minutes a few weeks ago, the timing of Maldini's farewell at his home stage could not have been scripted any better. The Del Piero - Maldini comparison is after all a contrived one. Arbitrary. It's not that they are fundamentally different, it's that they are "just" both captains of successful teams. But Totti vs Maldini represents something real, something true; they are the last two bandiere going head to head. They were both born and brought up with one destination; the captaincy of their respective team, representing their respective city. Maldini for reasons of legacy, if nothing else, born to a father who captained Milan around the time Paolo was born. Totti for reasons of love for his city and team; lacking a famous footballing father, he was no less destined to lead his team, albeit their worlds apart background and childhood. It will be 90 minutes rife with nostalgia for those who are so inclined, as the two bandiere will not represent merely themselves. Beyond themselves, and their teams, they represent all of the bandiere that came before them. Rivera, Baresi, Di Bartolomei, Giannini; Maldini, Totti.
And after Sunday, there will only be one left