ROME, May 23 – After 24 seasons as one of Italy's finest defenders and AC Milan's emblem, Paolo Maldini will play his last match at the San Siro this weekend when AS Roma are in town.ROME, May 23 – After 24 seasons as one of Italy’s finest defenders and AC Milan’s emblem, Paolo Maldini will play his last match at the San Siro this weekend when AS Roma are in town.
But while it has been known for some time that this game — while possibly not Maldini’s last ever in a Milan shirt as the club travels to Fiorentina next weekend for their last game of the season — will be his final bow in front of his home fans, the suggestion that it will also be coach Carlo Ancelotti’s swansong in front of the Milan faithful is more recent.
Ancelotti has been at the helm since 2001 but the voices announcing his imminent departure at the season’s end have been becomming more frequent and noisy.
It is now generally accepted in the Italian media that the 49-year-old will leave despite there being another year to run on his contract and he is widely expected to take over the reins at Chelsea in the summer.
AC Milan vice-president Adriano Galliani did nothing to dampen the rumours in midweek either when rather than confirming the club’s intent to keep Ancelotti he instead seemingly delayed announcing the inevitable.
"I hope to say something on Monday because it will mean we have achieved direct Champions League qualification," he said.
A victory for Milan would assure them of a top three finish and direct Champions League group stage qualification next season while several other permutations, including the failure to win by either Juventus or Fiorentina at Siena and Lecce respectively, would also see Milan secure a top three spot.
But while that would seem like a good achievement by almost any other team’s standards, for the Milan hierarchy it is simply not enough.
They are waiting for a first title since 2004 and will have to hold on for at least another year after their defeat at Udinese last weekend ensured city rivals Inter Milan claimed a fourth straight Serie A crown.
If Ancelotti’s departure were to be announced after this weekend it would follow hot on the heels of Claudio Ranieri’s sacking from third-placed Juve on Monday.
Having finished third in their first season back in Serie A and being Inter’s closest challengers for most of this season, that still was not enough to placate the Juve board and likewise Ancelotti’s continued inability to spark a title challenge down to the wire almost certainly will see him shown the door.
It would thus be a bitter sweet day in Milan with one hero being celebrated and applauded into retirement from a glorious playing career while another hero — Ancelotti was a hugely successful player at Milan before also winning two Champions League crowns as a coach — faces the inglorious prospect of being fired.
If the rumours are true, though, it could even be seen as a career move with a higher salary expected at Chelsea and a new league to add to his CV.
As Inter are already champions it is only the minor issues that still need to be decided in Serie A.
Two from Milan, Juve and Fiorentina will join Inter in the top three this season and next season’s Champions League group stages.
Either Fiorentina or Genoa could finish fourth and thus play Champions League qualifiers next season while thwo from Torino, Bologna and Lecce will join already relegated Reggina in Serie B.
And finally there is UEFA Europa League qualification to be sorted. Lazio already have one spot having won the Italian Cup.
Fiorentina or Genoa will take a second while Roma, Palermo or Udinese will battle for the final berth.
AC Milan v AS Roma, Atalanta v Palermo, Cagliari v Inter Milan, Catania v Napoli, Chievo v Bologna, Lecce v Fiorentina, Sampdoria v Udinese, Siena v Juventus, Torino v Genoa
Lazio 1 (Zarate 26) Reggina 0