Theo Hernández has spoken to La Gazzetta dello Sport to discuss his time at Milan, his idols, what he does in his free time and much more.
Theo arrived at Milan from Real Madrid in the summer for €20m, and after recovering from the injury he picked up in pre-season, he’s managed to conquer the starting left-back spot at the Rossoneri.
Tomorrow, Theo will face Roma at Stadio Olimpico, and next month he’ll also have to go up against Juventus and Cristiano Ronaldo. “I am ready”, the Frenchman assured in an interview that was published on Saturday morning, with Alessandro Bocci of La Gazzetta dello Sport.
On the pitch, Hernández gives his contribution, while off the pitch there have been no problems, and it seems that his bad-boy phase and his time partying with guns and dwarfs is well past him. “At Madrid I received so many insults and criticisms. I did some tonterías [things that are dumb], but I’ve matured as a person. For me it was a very important experience,” he told GdS.
Then there were other teams in Spain, then Milan. The first meeting in Ibiza with Maldini…
“It’s an honor to have been chosen by Paolo. He made the history of football, not just Milan, and he was very convincing with me. It didn’t take me long to decide to accept the offer.”
Was he your idol as a kid?
“He’s a myth, unreachable. Paolo is a defender who has made the history of football, I think that he is a model for everyone.”
Do you have other models among contemporaries?
“I like Marcelo very much.”
They say that you cut your salary, even conspicuously, to come to Milan. Is that right?
“I talked to my agent about it and we immediately agreed. Milan is a club with a great history, one of the most successful in the world. It was worth making such a choice.”
Are you here to get back on track or to stay?
“I’m 22-year-old, I have a lot to learn. Milan is a fundamental landing place. I’m here to stay for many years and to write my history. My dream is to win a Champions League with Milan, but the first step is to qualify for the next one.”
Did you expect such a difficult start?
“A lot of things happen in football and I don’t know how long it will take to get back on top, but the road is right. We have a good team and I think we can already aim for fourth place this season. It’s a young group, we need to get to know each other, but there are also many more-experienced players who help us overcome the difficulties.”
Is it important for a youngster to be in a team with many of his age group? In the past the youngsters struggled a bit in a Milan of senators.
“I don’t know, actually this team is a mix. There are a lot of guys my age who live things the way I do, but as I said, there are also a lot of players of other ages and great personalities who are very important. They make us understand this beautiful environment.”
Do you like Italy?
“Very much. Pasta, pizza, risotto… I have to be careful not to gain some kilos.”
Well, you look in perfect shape…
“We work a lot on the pitch and this helps, but Italian cuisine is a fairy tale.”
You had a reputation of a bad-boy (Theo makes a puzzled face). How do you explain it?
“I told you, I did some stupid things, but I’m young. Actually, I consider myself a very tranquil and happy person, who likes to joke. I like to stay at home with my dogs and my family, my mother travels a lot, she stays a bit with me and a bit with my brother.”
Where do you live?
“I’m at Comasco, near the [Como] lake. For my lifestyle, it’s a perfect place.”
What do you do when you’re not training at Milanello?
“I try to relax. I like playing the PlayStation. And I love tennis.”
Favorite player? Some young guys, Next-Gen like you? Maybe Tsitsipas or Shapovalov?
“Nooo… Nadal. Nadal is the best, the greatest ever.”
More than Federer?
“For me, yes. He’s a fighter, he never gives up. He fights to the end and I find it exciting. His games convey emotion. But I don’t just like watching tennis on TV, I also like playing with my brother in the summer.”
He plays in Germany, at Bayern Munich. Have you been there to see him yet?
“Not yet. Mom has to split between us, we’re very close. Our mother Laurence was, and is, an important person.”
Your father was also a football player. Between colleagues, difficult relationships?
“I don’t know… In reality, my parents separated when I was little and I haven’t had any relationship with my father for a long time. But I’m fine like this.”
Do you feel more French or more Spanish?
“I’m French, but I speak Spanish better.”
How was the impact of Italy? Perhaps you expected a better start for the team.
“We have time to recover. Pioli teaches us a lot of things, we’re learning a lot. He’s a prepared person and slowly we’ll be able to go back up.”
The previous coach, Giampaolo, defined you as a talented but undisciplined player from a tactical point of view…
“I’m learning, I’ve come to Italy with the idea of improving from a tactical point of view. I really like pushing up and attacking, but I also know that I have to learn to do something else. I can grow in the defensive phase.”
They often compare you to Serginho, a player who was very important for Milan…
“We are different defenders, but admittedly I also like to push myself forward. But the Italian league is the ideal place to mature from a tactical point of view.”
Tactics, always tactics. Are you freer with Pioli?
“Maybe yes, and I really like his new game system. But the important thing is to help the team and I know that I cannot avoid working on defensive covering. After all, I’m a defender, my job is that. Pioli leaves us freedom but not too much: in Italy it’s important to have a defined organization of the game.”
In Spain the tactics matter less…
“It’s true, but I’ve come here to complete myself.”
Is the Premier League or La Liga more beautiful?
“I didn’t play in England, so my judgment is limited to what I’ve experienced. And for me, La Liga is the most entertaining league.”
Who are the Milan players with whom I’ve bonded the most?
“Logically, the Spaniards. Pepe Reina, Castillejo, Suso… it’s also a matter of language. But I feel good with everyone.”
Any teammates who’ve amazed you with their skills?
“They are all very strong.”
Diplomatic. When will you learn Italian?
“Little by little… I’m studying and I already understand it a bit.”
What language do you speak with Pioli? Spanish?
“No. He doesn’t speak Spanish and I don’t speak Italian at the moment. But I understand everything he tells me, especially what I have to do on the pitch. And it’s the most important thing.”
Well, judging by the results there were no elements lost in translation…
“I’m very attentive, and the language of football is easy.”
Fans love you already. Do you realize that?
“They’re great. The environment at San Siro is very nice. The fans have welcomed me with sympathy since I arrived and I immediately felt at home.”
Theo, you have an incredible number of tattoos, from the wrist to your back. There is even a pagoda.
“Yes, I love tattoos and each has a specific meaning.”
What does the pagoda mean?
“It’s not a topic to be discussed in public. But everything I’ve written on my skin makes sense.”