Gennaro Gattuso says the 2-2 draw against last-placed Benevento ‘hurts and burns’ but also claims that ‘I cannot reproach my players for anything’.
Gattuso’s debut match as the coach of Milan will forever be in the history books, but for very different reasons than the ones Rino and the fans were hoping for.
Basically everyone called it, and it really happened: Benevento won their first-ever Serie A point against Milan. And it couldn’t have been done in a more dramatic way.
Giacomo Bonaventura gave Milan the lead in the 38′ minute but George Pușcaș equalized in the 50′ minute. Eight minutes later, Nikola Kalinić made it 2-1 Milan, but Benevento, who played with a lot of desire and a brilliant attitude all throughout the match, had their enthusiasm increased in the 75′ minute when referee Maurizio Mariani (wrongly) showed Alessio Romagnoli the red card.
Benevento, who lost 14 matches this season, were pushing hard to finally get a point in Matchday 15: in the 94′ minute, Abate committed a foul and gave away a free kick; and it was the head of Alberto Brignoli – the Benevento goalkeeper of all players – that found the ball to beat Donnarumma. The Juve-owned man became the first keeper since Massimo Taibi (April 1st 2001) to score in Serie A.
Milan threw away their lead in the very last moment of the match and Benevento got a point. The most worrying part, perhaps, is that the Diavolo should be thankful they even won a point, as they were second best to the 20th-placed Giallorossi all throughout the encounter. It’s an embarrassing day in the history of Milan, who now have 11 points less than they did last season after 15 rounds.
“It certainly burns and hurts,” the former midfielder, who wore the Milan shirt from 1999 to 2012, told Sky Sport Italia. “It would’ve been better to get stabbed than concede this goal. It hurts to concede goals like that, we suffered in the final 15 minutes, but conceded a bizarre goal. I never would’ve expected to concede at the last second with the opposition goalkeeper on target.
“What I said to the team? I just have to thank these guys for how they worked this week. As for the spirit we put on the pitch, we surely can do a lot better, but I saw a spirit and I saw guys who sacrificed. It’s normal that at this moment we must understand many things, we have to improve on the mentality and the physical aspect, because how we’re doing now is not enough.
“We must start again from the spirit that I saw. This team might look like it’s just wandering around not bothered by anything, but instead I saw a really downhearted side in the locker room today. We are Milan and must do more, because the current level is not enough.
“So many times today we could’ve attacked vertically and sometimes we made different choices. I saw a team that took the field well, but this is not enough and we must understand how to improve this team and how to bring everyone to give their best. I think we will succeed, if there is this spirit and this desire then you can build something good [Milan are currently 8th in the table].
“It was my first game on the Milan bench, a side I represented for many years. At a mental level, I had thought we’d done it, but instead we made a naïve mistake giving away that free kick with Abate. I got angry at the referee because just before the foul he whistled at Kalinić for something that wasn’t there [Rino and Bonucci were arguing with the ref]. It hurts and we are here licking our wounds.”
Speaking to Premium Sport, Gattuso said: “The guys gave their all, we conceded a strange goal and at the moment that’s just what our luck is. I want to thank the players for showing their desire and commitment from the first day I arrived. It’s a period that goes like this and we pay for our first mistake. There is great despair in the locker room. We lick our wounds today, will work to improve the fitness levels and mentality, but I cannot reproach my players for anything.
“We could’ve developed our play better and with a little more personality, as we lost the ball too many times playing out of defense. Trying to do something new is good, but we knew that despite the defeats, Benevento have been doing much better in terms of performance lately.
“We knew the difficulties and I knew we’d find strong opponents as it’s been 3-4 matches Benevento didn’t deserve to lose. Now we must look forward. If I’ll insist on these 11 starting players? It’s a question that makes me smile. Romagnoli already will not be there because he’ll be disqualified. We need to evaluate the players during the week. We have a long way to go and a lot to improve.”
Gattuso also spoke in a post-match presser at Stadio Ciro Vigorito: “We have been working together for a week and we have changed some things. I need time to make the team play like I would like. There are no consolations or excuses. We didn’t always play well but we tried to win until the end.
“Benevento did not deserve to lose in their last five games and against us they scored in the last second. They made their own luck. I get very involved in every game, and I really wanted to win this one. The changes I made? We were not keeping possession of the ball with our midfielders, the only one who was doing the job was Kessie. I wanted to bring the win home and that’s why I subbed-in a defender. I don’t think they troubled us until the 2-2. There is still a long way to go.
“The bright side? The hard work during the week, the team spirit and the desire I have seen. Work pays off so we have to remain together in this moment, there is no point in getting upset. I have to be the first to show conviction and serenity. There are many matches to be played and no one is pleased.
“We are not giving the impression that we are doing things with grit and our heads clear. A win today would have given us confidence, unfortunately we didn’t win, but we have to continue improving without giving up. If we hadn’t conceded Brignoli’s goal [the first goal ever Milan concede from a keeper], we’d be talking about a different spirit shown by the team. This is our new starting point.
“We cleared the ball away often towards the end. Our opponents manage to trouble us because we started playing with fear and we definitely have to improve in this. We stop playing completely in the last 7-8 minutes of the game. It’s all psychological, it begins with the fear to lose the game.”
The next Milan match is on Thursday against Rijeka, but it’s a game for the protocol as the Rossoneri already secured qualification to the next EL round. Next Sunday, however, they host Bologna.