Daniel Maldini: Can AC Milan's new teen star maintain his family's legend?

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The 17-year-old impressed during pre-season for the Rossoneri and could be in line for further opportunities at San Siro in 2019-20

Representing AC Milan with the name 'Maldini' brandished on the back of your shirt all but ensures that every aspect of your performance will be picked over; a pressure that few 17-year-olds would be able to deal with.

But for Daniel Maldini – son of Rossoneri legend, Paolo – it is something that he has prepared all his life for. Dealing with the scrutiny of continuing the legend of one of the greatest defenders in Italian football history has always been an aim for the teenager, and given it is a task that very much runs in the family (Paolo's own father, Cesare, is a Milan legend in his own right), he has the perfect role model to follow.

This past pre-season the eyes of the Milan media have been on Maldini ever since he was named in the starting XI for his side's International Champions Cup clash with Bayern Munich on July 24 in Kansas City.

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New manager Marco Giampaolo has a huge task in reawakening the sleeping giant that is the seven-time European champions, and using homegrown talent – particularly a player who is carrying on one of the greatest footballing dynasties on the continent – may be a way to ensure he keeps supporters, and reporters, on side.

The first thing to note regarding Daniel Maldini is that he has failed to uphold the key tradition that has underpinned his family's success over the past 65 years, for he is no defender. Both Cesare and Paolo made their names as no-nonsense members of the backline, and even Daniel's elder brother, Christian, plays as a centre-back.

The new kid on the block instead plays as versatile attacker, who is at home playing anywhere along the frontline as well as behind the strikers as a trequartista, or No.10.

"He is a playmaker, a goalscorer, a No.10," Paolo said of Daniel in an interview with DAZN. "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."

Daniel agrees with his father's interpretation of his ability, saying upon his call-up to Italy's Under-18 side in March: "As a role, I think more about attacking than defending. I'm an offensive midfielder or a striker. I think about making goals. My strengths are playing with few touches, seeing the game before the others and set-pieces."

Daniel Maldini GFX

A far cry, then, from those in his family to have represented both Milan and the Azzurri previously, and as such his performance can be measured more than by just how often tackles are made or headers are won.

Forward players are measured on their raw output in the final third, and Maldini has answered those who have questioned his ability at every turn while dealing with the pressure of playing in the Milan academy with a surname such as his.

With the Under-17 team he scored 13 goals in 28 appearances two seasons ago despite only celebrating his 16th birthday early in the campaign. Last season, he found the net on 10 occasions in 26 outings for Milan's Primavera side, with new coach Giampaolo taking notice of such numbers when selecting his squad for this summer's pre-season tour of the United States.

During the weeks building up to the 2019-20 campaign, Maldini has mostly been used as a No.10, and on occasion was selected ahead of Suso, who has arguably been Milan's most important outfield player for the past three seasons.

The quantity and quality of chances created for front two Krzysztof Piatek and Samu Castillejo could come to define Milan's season, and Maldini is certainly seen as a player who can provide both despite his tender years.

An illustration of just how highly he is regarded by former Sampdoria boss Giampaolo came in Cardiff in early August as, after a 2-2 draw with Manchester United, he was selected to take the fifth penalty in the shootout against the Red Devils. His effort from 12 yards was saved by David de Gea, allowing Daniel James to seal victory for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side.

Daniel Maldini AC Milan 2019-20

A sour way to end a promising pre-season, but a moment Giampaolo hopes will only further the youngster's development.

"It was right that he took that penalty," he told the media post-match. "I appointed him as the fifth taker, but unfortunately he missed. It is a useful path for him. The boys need matches to grow and if they don't get them, they don't grow."

Should that belief in Maldini transfer through to this season's Serie A campaign, then expect to see plenty of the 17-year-old over the next year as he looks to form his own path at a club where the expectations on him are to lead them back to their glory days of the past.

Italy, too, are crying out for young attacking talent, and Maldini has confirmed his allegiance to the country of his birth despite being able to play for Venezuela, the nationality of his mother, Adriana Fossa.

Roberto Mancini has shown a penchant for giving young talent opportunities since taking over the job of managing the Italian national team, and should Maldini be given the chance to impress in the Italian top flight, then a call-up will be next on the list to tick off in terms of the family traditions.

For now, though, he is just trying to forge his own path in the game, even if he does follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather in bleeding exclusively red, black and blue.

One thing is for certain – the Maldini family are not done when it comes to writing pages in the history of Milanese football.

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