Paolo Maldini vs Javier Zanetti: Who was better?

Jack Gallagher
Image by Matthew Burt
Image by Matthew Burt /

There are a few players who perfectly encapsulate their football clubs: Paolo Maldini and Javier Zanetti are two of those players.

The numbers speak for themselves: Maldini made 902 appearances for his Milanese club, and Zanetti made 858 for his.

The two defenders are pillars of their Derby della Madonnina sides, dedicating their playing careers to the two famous clubs and also becoming protagonists off the pitch once they'd retired (albeit in very different roles).

But who was better?

That's the question we're here to answer as part of 90min's Rivals series.

1. Tactical flexibility

Image by Matthew Burt
Image by Matthew Burt /

Both players are known for their ability to play in multiple positions, with Paolo Maldini being able to play anywhere across a back three or four - mainly specialising at left-back.

Javier Zanetti was slightly more tactically flexible, being able to perform at high level as a full-back, centre-back, wide midfielder and even as a central midfielder when called upon.

That level of tactical flexibility is unique, so this category belongs to Zanetti.

Winner: Zanetti

2. Derby record

Paolo Maldini
Maldini was pretty good / Etsuo Hara/GettyImages

It is impossible to talk about Zanetti and Maldini without discussing their remarkable derby performances.

The two are, in fact, the record appearance makers in the Derby della Madonnina: Maldini in first place with 56 appearances, while Zanetti is in second place with 47 appearances.

Both enjoyed memorable wins in the derby, but Maldini edges it with those famous Champions League semi-final victories over Inter.

Winner: Maldini

3. Defending

Paolo Maldini
Maldini with the Champions League / Alessandro Sabattini/GettyImages

Maldini wins this category if he was pitted against pretty much any footballer.

The Milan legend's quality is undeniable, when out left or in the centre he was one of the toughest and best defenders around. His ability to read play, his aggression in the tackle and his aeriel ability made him a truly special defensive talent.

Winner: Maldini

4. Attacking

Javier Zanetti
Zanetti was great going forward / Valerio Pennicino/GettyImages

At the other end of the pitch, Zanetti was undeniably more effective.

That's not to say Maldini didn't do his bit when bombing forward from left-back, but Zanetti had more quality and composure in the final third and was a more 'modern' full-back.

Zanetti's ability to plow forward with the ball and cross the ball into the box with consistent quality means he undoubtedly wins this category.

Winner: Zanetti

5. Results

Paolo Maldini
Maldini wins it / Alessandro Sabattini/GettyImages

So with the two players locked level after our analysis, we decided to throw the decision out to all you football fans out there.

And now the results are in...

Your winner, with a whopping 82% of the fan votes is Paolo Maldini.