‘Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini conceded just 23 goals together as a centre-back pairing’: debunking one of the biggest myths in football history

UEFA Champions League Final. Munich, Germany. 26th May 1993. Marseille 1 v AC Milan 0. The AC Milan team line-up together for a group photograph. Back Row L-R: Sebastiano Rossi, Paolo Maldini, Frank Rijkaard, Mauro Tassotti, Demetrio Albertini,
(Image credit: Getty)

‘FRANC-LY IMPENETRABLE’ reads the headline. ‘Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini conceded just 23 goals at the heart of AC Milan in 196 matches’

Sadly, another national media outlet had fallen victim to a mistranslated tweet, turned Chinese whisper, about legendary Italian defenders Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi. Incredibly the article is still available online, having first been published in January 2019. It was even ‘updated’ in 2020 at the height of lockdown, but not corrected.

This isn't the only major outlet to publish stories and social posts around the fake stat. It has been doing the rounds for a while. As recently as 13 June, this tweet, attracted 3,5000 retweets and that even got the goals wrong, claiming 29 rather than the original 23.

FourFourTwo aren’t the first to debunk the stat, several articles and tweets exist, pointing out the error, yet still it does the rounds.

Stop and think about the numbers and you’ll quickly realise how impossible they are. Even for two of the best defenders the world has ever seen. Maldini and Baresi played together for 13 seasons, 3.8 goals a season is ridiculously economical. 

Some digging reveals that the origin of the stat was, amazingly, the official Serie A Twitter account. The handle at the time was @SerieA_TIM, but Serie A changed this to @SerieA in 2018. They posted the image below which has since been mistranslated into the abyss of the internet.

It translates as: ‘196 games together, 23 goals conceded by AC Milan. Legends.’

Image of a mistranslated stat about Franco Baresi and Paolo Maldini posted by @SerieA_TIM on Twitter

(Image credit: Twitter @SerieA_TIM)

Eagle-eyed journalists spotted the mistake, but still couldn’t work out what the number 23 referred to. There is clearly some information or context missing. Was it 23 goals scored by the pair? A dull stat to shout about if so, and not particularly stand out. 

Stat websites like Transfermarkt allow for deep dives into football numbers, and it is possible to filter games during which Maldini and Baresi appeared on the pitch together. Transfermarkt indicates the pair together exactly 400 times for AC Milan over 13 seasons which immediately debunks the 196 number.

Transfermarkt isn’t always perfect though, especially with data that is decades old. Where 196 comes from still isn’t clear, and may just be an honest mistake. Transfermarkt also revealed that Maldini scored 20 goals when playing with Baresi, who himself managed 12, so 23 didn’t refer to goals scored between the pair.

So why would the official Serie A Twitter account tweet the numbers 23 and 196 alongside Maldini and Baresi? Looking into the 400 games they played together, it reveals they conceded 298 goals whilst together on the pitch. (Quite a leap from 23 in 196).

The secret lies in 298. Divide that by the number of seasons they played together (13) and you get 22.92, or 23 when rounded up. So Serie A’s Twitter stat is mistranslated. Rather than 23 goals in total, it is in fact 23 goals on average, per season together.

Given how defensive Italian football was in the 80s, that number isn’t particularly striking. Just one player went beyond 20 goals in Serie A in the 80s, and this an era when the world’s best forwards flocked to Italy (Maradona, Platini, Van Basten).

Quite 'average', you could say. Which is what the original stat was meant to say in the first place.

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