Paolo Maldini's long-overdue return to Milan signifies a positive shift in the club's fortunes
It's been almost 10 years since Paolo Maldini made his last appearance for AC Milan as a player, but the wait for the iconic figure to return home is finally over after he was officially unveiled as the club's new sporting strategy and development director.
Having made over 900 appearances for the Rossoneri in a career spanning two and a half decades that saw him win seven Serie A titles and five European trophies among many other pieces of silverware, Maldini has already secured his place in club folklore.
Further, he remains a much loved individual for fans across the world, having established himself as one of the finest defenders and captains to grace the game, along with his loyalty and commitment to one sole club that has seen his return celebrated by supporters and former rivals alike.
However, he now returns with a new challenge ahead as after an unfortunate farewell that was marred by a section of supporters along with issues with previous management, the 50-year-old has decided that the time is now right for him to return to a club that his family hold so close to their hearts.
With that in mind, the timing of his appointment says a great deal about the impact and influence that American hedge fund Elliott Management are having since taking control of Milan from previous owner Yonghong Li.
This is far from a PR stunt to get fans on side, as Maldini has insisted every time he has been linked with a return to the club that he would only go back if he was handed a long-term and prominent position and believed in the project presented to him.
Such a scenario failed to materialise during the Silvio Berlusconi era, with reports of an icy relationship between him and former CEO Adriano Galliani perhaps making it more difficult, while question marks over Li's financial stability following his takeover last year were enough to raise doubts for Maldini, who confirmed talks were held.
The fact that Elliott have now convinced him says a lot about the seriousness of their work and of the vision that they have. They've moved quickly, efficiently and ruthlessly in the past few weeks in their overhaul of the hierarchy, and it appears to be paying immediate dividends.
Albeit they have their own long-term financial motives too, from appointing Leonardo as sporting director coupled with overseeing the acquisitions of Gonzalo Higuain and Mattia Caldara along with playing a pivotal role in overturning Milan's European ban, it's fair to say that as far as first impressions go, Elliott haven't done too badly this summer.
Maldini is somewhat of a guarantee for Milan fans, as ultimately if he's willing to green light Elliott's project given his passion and love for the club, then he reinforces the confidence that the Italian giants are moving in the right direction under their current ownership.
Question marks perhaps remain over what exactly his role entails, but from passing on the sense of belonging and culture at Milan to helping Leonardo in the transfer market, it seems as though the club icon will have an influence in all matters relating to the sporting sector. Having one of the most respected and decorated players in football sit across the table in transfer negotiations will surely be a key factor in convincing targets to join in itself.
Ultimately, Maldini will have to be judged on the work that he does, but the signs are positive that he will have the requisite power and responsibilities to make a lasting impact at Milan and frankly, it adds to the feel-good factor at the San Siro. Milan's future off the pitch was shrouded in doubt not so long ago, but a much clearer picture has emerged under Elliott, and while the long-term results are what matter, it's a case of so far so good for now.
Meanwhile, Leonardo hinted in the news conference on Monday that Kaka may well become part of the new-look setup too in order to "learn what it means to be a director".
Naturally, the Brazilian's return will also be hugely popular with supporters, but there is real substance behind what Maldini could do in his new role. In turn, it's important to emphasise that this isn't just a reunion for some old faces to get back together and reminisce over the good times with Gennaro Gattuso of course the current coach too.
Given the transfer deadline is fast approaching, it's unlikely Maldini will have too much time to make his presence felt in the market, albeit Leonardo has wasted little time in getting to work and improving the squad. Nevertheless, it's been a long overdue process to see the legend return, and while he will now have to prove himself in a different environment, Milan fans will simply be delighted over the fact that Maldini is finally home.