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May 24, 2009

Maldini's Milan farewell marred by unhappy fans

Paolo Maldini's final appearance at the San Siro was marred by AC Milan ultra fans unveiling a banner criticising their captain on Sunday.

His day was already ruined by Milan losing 3-2 to AS Roma and they must now avoid defeat at Fiorentina in Sunday's final game of the campaign to secure a berth in next season's Champions League group stages.

The 40-year-old Maldini, who will bid farewell to soccer in Florence after a 24-year career, took a lap of honour around the stadium after the match but not all the Rossoneri fans cheered.

"Thank you captain. On the field you were a never-ending champion but you lacked respect for those who made you rich," read one huge banner, which media reports said referred to a falling out between fans and the player in 2005.

Some supporters then began a chant of "there's only one captain" when another banner displaying the name and number of Franco Baresi was unfurled.

Former Milan captain Baresi passed the armband on to Maldini when he retired.

One-club man Maldini, who will make his 902nd Milan appearance against Fiorentina, shrugged off the protests.

"I'm proud I'm not one of them," he told reporters.

The rest of the Rossoneri fans waved special Maldini scarves while Roma players came back on the pitch at the end wearing T-shirts hailing the defender, who won a record 126 caps for Italy before quitting the international game in 2002.

Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti said the banners had been "insignificant".

Milan owner and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, present at the stadium, was also jeered by home fans with uncertainty continuing over whether Ancelotti will stay at the club next season.

Ancelotti, strongly linked with Chelsea in the media, refused to discuss his future and said a Champions League group stage spot was the priority following their failure to qualify for this season's competition.

"There's no reason to talk about my future. There's still something to play for and we'll talk after the game in Florence," he said.

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