Paolo Maldini started his professional career at the age of 16 in the shadow of his father Cesare, but emerged triumphantly into the sunlight, earning a record 126 caps before retiring from international football after the 2002 World Cup.
Soul of the "Squadra"
He had starred in four World Cups and four European Championships, though was destined to win none of them.
Add to this mix more than 20 years at AC Milan, where he won four Champions League trophies the latest in 2003 and his seventh Italian championship in 2004, and you have quite simply one of the greatest players to ever grace Italian football.
Italian captain Paolo Maldini (L) is chased by Dutch Marc Overmars during the Euro 2000 semi-final soccer match Italy vs The Netherlands 29 June 2000, in Amsterdam. AFP PHOTO/ANJA NIEDRINGHAUS (ELECTRONIC IMAGE)
A product of the great AC Milan stable, Maldini began his first team career in 1984 and four years later found himself playing his first game for the national side.
Almost inevitably he had to put up with a whispering campaign directed against him by those who complained that he owed his selection to his father's influence.
He soon shut them up, performing with such confidence, skill and authority that when the great Franco Baresi retired he was given the captain's armband.
Milan AC captain Paolo Maldini (R) escapes with ball as Lazio's Alessandro Grandoni tries to stop him during the Italian Championships final opposing Milan AC to Lazio 29 April in Rome. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE)
Maldini is one of the principal architects of the great AC Milan sides of the past decade, having remained faithful to the club throughout his career.
He has helped his teams to four European cups, four European Supercups, two Intercontinental cups and seven Italian championships.
The only piece of silverware missing is a major trophy with the national side.
His four World Cup campaigns in 1990, 1994, 1998 and 2002 all ended with the misery of defeat in the penalty shoot-out or extra-time golden goal elimination.
The closest brush with the most sought after trophy of all came in the 1994 final, when Italy were beaten on penalties by Brazil.
Another low point came when Italy were sensationally dumped out of the the 2002 World Cup after South Korea's Ahn Jung-hwan sent a glancing header into the net, causing one of the greatest upsets in the 72-year history of the tournament.
The man he had out-jumped to score his extra time golden goal was Maldini.
Back in Italy, he announced his international retirement to concentrate on his club. As AC Milan won the Champions League the following season, his decision was vindicated and his disappointment eased somewhat.
A modern defender
England's Emile Heskey (L) and Italy's Paolo Maldini chase the ball during their friendly soccer match in Turin, late 15 November 2000. AFP PHOTO /CARLO FERRARO
Although he has played as a libero, Maldini has spent most of his career at left back, pushing up to help the forwards whenever he considers it prudent.
He is aggressive but fair and he wins plenty of balls thanks to his finely-tuned vision and awareness.
He heads the ball well and is fast on his feet - in short, he possesses everything a first-class defender could hope for.
In 2002 he set a new World Cup record of playing in his 23rd complete game at the finals, breaking the previous record held by Germany's Uwe Seeler.
In February this year he became one of the very few players to play in 1,000 competitive games for club or country and still shows no sign of calling it a day.