Gennaro Gattuso expects a ‘battle’ against 20th-placed Benevento tomorrow, defends Nikola Kalinić, and says ‘we tried something new in training, but the three-man defense remains’.
On paper, Gattuso could not have asked for an easier opponent for his debut match as the coach of Milan as they man who replaced Vincenzo Montella will face Benevento, who have lost every single one of their 14 matches this season.
But also due to that fact, the pressure is on Rino and his players to bring back the three points from Stadio Ciro Vigorito (Sunday, 12:30 CET kickoff). Today Gattuso sat at the Milanello press room for the traditional pre-match press conference and appeared to be aware of what’s at stake.
“I would like to thank the boys for their positive attitude and disposition,” said the 2006 World Cup winner and former Milan midfielder. “I am very pleased with the work done this week. Rome wasn’t built in a day, but I have seen great desire in this week. What we worked on specifically? On the mentality. It’s no secret I like to see a strong mentality, intensity and team spirit. We tried something new in training, but the three-man defense remains, and we worked on clear concepts.
“Benevento? This is going to be a battle. It’s true that they have 0 points, but they have changed since Roberto De Zerbi took over. They are dangerous and have a strong mentality. We’re playing in a passionate atmosphere and I think Benevento deserved more against Atalanta and Juventus. We have to close our eyes and imagine it’s a Champions League final, because that’s how important it is for us.
“My history with [Benevento coach] Roberto De Zerbi [the two clashed when Gattuso was coaching Pisa and De Zerbi was coaching Foggia]? I’ve seen De Zerbi a couple of times and we cleared the air a long time ago. He’s not the first person I argued with – certainly not the first! – but it’s Benevento against Milan, not De Zerbi against Gattuso. Fighting with me is not difficult [laughs]. For me the only thought for tomorrow is the points. We cannot afford to make mistakes in this match.
“There is tension, as I know we have everything to lose against Benevento and we aren’t going through a good period of form, but since speaking to the players and the staff, I’ve felt calm, as I saw the right work and enthusiasm. We’ve got to prove it on the pitch now. If I’ll sleep tonight? I hope so, but it’s my players who must do it… I can also afford to sleep a few hours less.
“An ex-Milan coach I use as reference? Every coach I worked with gave me a great deal, even those with whom I didn’t win. Today it’d be easy to say I want to follow in the footsteps of Carlo Ancelotti or Arrigo Sacchi, but I prefer to say I just hope to do well and get good results.
“I’m on a rescue mission to save Milan? What’s in the past is in the past. I want to clarify, my way of working is totally different from Vincenzo’s, it’s a Segreto di Pulcinella [an open secret]. I found these guys a bit distressed, they are struggling a little in terms of intensity, but it’s not because they were trained badly, it’s just a different approach and methodology of training. We have to step up the intensity and mentality of the side. There isn’t much time to get to work, but results help you work in a more relaxed manner, make you feel more enthusiastic, less fatigued, it all helps.
“La Gazzetta dello Sport wrote on the return of the ItalMilan? I don’t know… my Milan will be made up of those who perform better and work harder, I don’t pay attention if the player is Italian or not, I need everyone. This week, for instance, they made it difficult for me to make choices.
“If I worked well this week? I feel comfortable. I didn’t have any difficulties and from day one in training, I felt good with this team. As days go by I realize how difficult it is to manage 24, 25 players. This is my biggest concern because I would like to involve everyone. For the rest, I have no worries.
“There’s importunate in re-evaluating the summer mercato? It’s true but for many, like for Kalinić [who is favorite to start tomorrow], it just takes a goal to change everything. It doesn’t take much to go from bad things to the most beautiful images. Nikola, like others, needs confidence but if he always tries to score and is always in position to score then it’s an important parameter for me.
“Can Kalinić play on the side like Mario Mandžukić [the Juventus striker usually plays as a winger in Massimiliano Allegri’s set-up]? Maybe he can, that would give us new tactical solutions but today it seems difficult for me to ask him that. The only one who I could think of at the moment [that can play like Mandžukić] is Cutrone due to his acceleration and intensity. Nikola must keep playing as a #9.
“Biglia’s condition? I spoke to him. There are millions of talented players in Argentina, so it’s no coincidence if he is first choice in their midfield. Knowing his style of football, he can only do well when he’s in good shape and this season he has been courageous enough to play for the team even when he was carrying an injury. In that role, you need to use up a lot of energy. I spoke to him, as he is a fundamental player for this team, but his fitness levels have to improve.
“My heir? I was asked this question the other day too… In terms of characteristics, [summer signing Franck] Kessié is closer to what I was, but Leonardo Bonucci has leadership and charisma qualities. I hope there will be many leaders in the squad who can step up and help their teammates.
“If I’ve found a reason for the sub-par performances? I’ve talked to 4-5- players and then with all the people of Milanello to clarify everything and about what I want and will do. We are all in the same direction and I spent my free time talking with all the people close to the team. I haven’t talked to all the players yet, but I would like to study their past and what they did before coming to Milan. With Kessié, for example, I talked about the positions that he had before being here.
“If I ever thought I’d become Milan’s coach? Honestly speaking, the objective since the moment I hung up my boots was to do this job. I didn’t imagine doing it within four years. I could’ve joined the staff of Allegri four years ago, or train the Primavera already then. But then my physical problems arrived, and I thought that my time had come to an end here and it was right to seek new experiences elsewhere. It was disappointing leaving something extraordinary, but I felt the need to try new things.
“If I’m ready for the Milan bench? If I said that I was ready for the first team when I was presented as Primavera coach in the summer, then it would have been a lack of respect. Today I still have a lot of things to improve but I will never stop working to grow. Now I just want to be able to create a group.
“If anything positive remains from the Montella time [Vincenzo was at Milan for about a season and a half]? Of course there’s something left, and on these bases we will try to verticalize more and attack the depth. But after a week, thinking of changing everything and everyone would be crazy.”
It will surely take some time before Gattuso would be able to instill his philosophy and ideas into this squad, but the one thing that is certain is that nothing but three points tomorrow can be accepted.