Maldini was born in Trieste, Italy. His parents were working class people of Slovene origin whose surname Maldič was Italianised to Maldini in 1931. He grew up in the predominantly Slovene-speaking working class suburb of Servola (Slovene: :Škedenj), and has kept a typical Triestine accent. His son, Paolo, also a defender, once held the record for the most caps for the Italian national team (now third behind Gianluigi Buffon and Fabio Cannavaro). The younger Maldini captained Milan to the UEFA Champions League title in 2003 and 2007. Maldini's grandsons, Christian and Daniel play football in junior teams.
Maldini won the European Cup as team captain of AC Milan in 1963. He served as an assistant coach on the 1982 FIFA World Cup-winning Italian side. Maldini coached the Italian Under-21 side for ten years, winning the European Under-21 Football Championship on the tournament record of three occasions. Former protégés Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluigi Buffon and Francesco Totti from the 1996-winning squad went on to win the 2006 FIFA World Cup. Following that success, he took charge of the senior team that qualified for the 1998 FIFA World Cup. His son, Paolo, was captain. Italy advanced to the quarter-finals where they were eliminated by hosts France on penalties after a scoreless draw. Maldini resigned after the tournament due to media criticism of his ultra-defensive tactics. In January 2002, Maldini became coach of Paraguay's national team. His appointment caused some controversy as domestic managers were overlooked (prompting the managers union to try to unsuccessfully expel him for immigration breaches), and because he spoke little Spanish. Maldini nonetheless had the support of star goalkeeper José Luis Chilavert and several other senior players. He took over the team which had already qualified for the 2002 World Cup hosted by South Korea and Japan, becoming the oldest coach in the tournament at the age of 70. (His son Paolo captained Italy in the same tournament). Despite missing Chilavert for the first game due to suspension, Paraguay advanced to the knockout round. They were eliminated by the eventual finalists, Germany, by an 89th minute goal. Maldini returned to AC Milan as a talent scout for the Rossoneri. Maldini is a sports analyst for the beIN SPORTS channel with Alessandro Altobelli.