Fan-protest furore mars Maldini swansong

ROME - AC Milan captain Paolo Maldini wraps up his remarkable career at Fiorentina on Sunday with Serie A's last automatic Champions League slot up for grabs but the swansong has been overshadowed by a fan protest. Maldini was accused of lacking respect to his club's supporters in a large banner shown as the 40-year-old did a lap of honour at the end of his San Siro goodbye last week, a 3-2 defeat by AS Roma.

Third-placed Milan need a draw at fourth-placed Fiorentina to be sure of going directly into the group stage of next season's Champions League.

The defender, who helped Milan win Europe's top club competition win five times in his 24-year career, admitted he was upset.

"I was a wounded man," Maldini told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "The stadium was full of families and 70,000 people who were cheering me. It's a shame those 500 ruined the party."

The former Italy captain was also unhappy he did not receive more public support from the club.

"The club's silence (disappointed me)," he said.

"I didn't like it that no one took a position. From the president (Silvio Berlusconi) down, not one of the directors said a word. I think a club like Milan should disassociate itself from certain episodes."


Chief Executive Adriano Galliani replied in a open letter to Maldini on the club website saying that they thought silence was the best way to combat this sort of behaviour.

The player said he did not know why the group of 'ultra' fans had staged the protest.

He speculated it might have been prompted by a heated exchange with fans at the airport returning from Milan's 2005 Champions League final loss to Liverpool or comments he made in 2007 criticising some 'ultras' for failing to support the team.

While Milan need a point to be sure of avoiding a Champions League qualifier, a defeat by one goal may suffice if second-placed Juventus, who are already sure of a group stage place, draw or win against Lazio.

Sunday's match in Florence may also be the last one at Milan for coach Carlo Ancelotti, who is being linked to Premier League Chelsea.

Ancelotti said he would learn his fate on Monday, adding that he would like to stay on if the club want him.

Goodbyes could also be in store for Pavel Nedved when Juventus take on his former side Lazio in Turin, although speculation is increasing that the Czech winger may go back on his decision to retire at the end of the season.

Luis Figo may bow out too in champions Inter Milan's home game against Atalanta, as his contract is running out and he has not decided whether he will keep on playing.

Aside from Fiorentina and Milan's tussle for European positions, the only other issue to resolve on the season's last weekend will be whether Torino or Bologna go down to Serie B with Reggina and Lecce.

The two clubs both have 34 points but Bologna will stay up as long as they match Torino's result at Roma when they face Catania at home thanks to a better record in the head-to-heads.

To make matters worse for Torino, seven of their players are suspended, including five who were given bans of between two and four matches for being involved in a brawl at the en