Stefano Pioli spoke to the press for the last time this season before a match, as he prepares for Matchday 38 against Cagliari, which he considers ‘tricky’.
The season of the Diavolo is virtually over as they’ll be finishing in 6th place in Serie A, but they still have one more game to play – they face Cagliari at San Siro on Saturday evening at 20:45 CEST.
Stefano Pioli, who signed a two-year renewal with Milan this month, will look to get another win tomorrow and finish this crazy season on a high.
“If the fact that the team has kept going throughout and has been consistent in terms of results and physiologically even after the disappointment of the Coppa Italia and the draw against SPAL is also important for next season? Absolutely,” Pioli said in today’s pre-match press conference. “That needs to be the recurring theme for us, there won’t be too much time off between one season and the next and on September 17 we’ll already be involved in the preliminary round of the Europa League. We’ve tried to come up with our own footballing philosophy and as I said, this season should allow us to consolidate ahead of the next campaign.
“If I have someone to thank at the end of this very unusual campaign? There are a number of people that I need to thank. First and foremost I’d like to thank my staff, which is made up of some very professional individuals, who have really helped me on a personal level in terms of the job we’ve done. And above all, the people that aren’t necessarily on the spotlight on Sunday but have helped us every day at Milanello so we can work to our maximum potential here in the training ground. There’s passion, professionalism, they identify with the club and so I’d really like to thank all of them.
“If I’ve managed to consolidate in the dressing room the message which I said after the Roma defeat in October that win, draw or loss should not be the same thing for Milan? Yes, absolutely. It’s also about forging mentality. I think that’s the most important aspect, that’s the trickiest thing to do and what takes longest to do. But I think we’ve actually succeeded and managed to do that in a relatively short space of time and that needs to be the basis upon which we’re able to kick on and work ahead of next season.
“If I’m a bit disappointed after the last 25 days to end this season and leave behind this squad of players and the atmosphere here at Milanello where it feels like all is perfect? Yes, I am sorry to leave it all behind. I think the players have enjoyed it as well, they have everything available to us and so it’s only natural that they should have a bit of time off and get a bit of a breather. But when you step into the training ground, there is this fact that we’re on the same page, there is this desire to work together and this is something which is very gratifying for us in terms of work we do, the way we operate together and I’m sure that we’ll once again see it when we come back for next season.
“If I’ll pick my best Milan side tomorrow or will I give opportunities to those who’ve played a bit less? We’ll pick our strongest XI. I don’t know necessarily who will be involved because we still have our final training session this evening and then we have another workout tomorrow morning. I don’t know if it’ll be the same first XI that we saw against Sampdoria but I will naturally need to assess the recovery times of those who did feature against the Blucerchiati. Rebić is banned so Leão will start, but it will be a competitive side and it will be even though there’ll be some changes, because the most important and positive thing is that all the players are ready and all the players have shown that they are ready to contribute when they’re called upon.
“The family that has been created in recent months? It’s a beautiful family, absolutely. Yesterday evening’s dinner was testimony for that but we’ve always done so [Pioli had dinner with his staff, the team doctors, masseurs and the press office]. I think it was the right time to thank those that have gone out of their way to make sure we can work as best we can, so it was a thank you very much, see you soon, and even though we’ve done a great deal – we need to do even more, and improve on this, because people expect the best from Milan and it’s only natural that Milan should be competing at the top of the table, so we have to continue to improve, all of us.
“The evolution of Rebić, Kessié and Çalhanoğlu? I think a number of players have improved significantly in this squad and they’ve finally shown their true ability. I truly believe that I have a quality side, I’m working with a team with lots of ability, a young side which it took a bit of time to know one another; they needed to have more positivity, greater confidence and I think our progress has gone hand-in-hand with that, it’s the team’s style of play and that is something that everyone has acknowledged which has allowed the individuals to thrive. And also the individual’s progress has allowed the team to produce top-level performances.
“If Milan deserved more than a 6th-place finish and if I thought about the fact that had Juventus won the Coppa Italia final instead of Napoli then Milan would’ve been in the Europa League Group Stage? We’ve had an excellent 2020, but it’s not over yet. We need to make sure that we finish very well, we need to make sure that we get more points and give an excellent performance tomorrow night. I know that we’re naturally a bit tired both physically and mentally and that our league position is not something we can change tomorrow night, because we will finish 6th, but we have a duty to try and perform again tomorrow night and pick up more points in the league table. What we haven’t been able to succeed in doing this season we need to do next term. We want to finish higher than 6th next season.
“If I expect players like Maldini, Colombo and Brescianini to progress and if we’re in good hands in that perspective? Yes, I think so. I think we have some young players that should be a part of the first team’s squad next season and when I say should be part of the first team I mean they need to be ready to step out there and play. If we have good young players then you need to give them confidence and let them play, and I believe that Milan do have players like that, so yes we’ll be looking at players from the Academy next term.
“The fact that Ibrahimović and Çalhanoğlu said that this is the real Milan and if next season we’ll be targeting Champions League places or something higher? I really trust what my players have said. So this is the Milan side? If that’s what the players said then it means that they are convinced and the most important thing is that they’re convinced that we’re all convinced and we believe it, and Milan need to fight to return to the Champions League. We have glory, prestige, history to support us so naturally need to return to the Champions League and consolidate the work that we’ve done this year. But we won’t be starting from the 38 or 41 points that we got in the second half of the season, we’ll be starting again from scratch and that’s why we have to work very hard and very well and prove that we have this quality.
“If I also hope that tomorrow night’s game is not Ibrahimović’s last at Milan? Yes.
“How important is tomorrow night’s game considering we can’t change our league standings and how can I motivate the players? We need to take one last step, it’s the case of personal achievement. Seeing all of the efforts repaid in terms of our league position and our points tally, we’ve worked very hard so we need to roll up our sleeves, dig deep; Cagliari will certainly produce an excellent performance, just a couple of days ago they beat Juventus, so it will be a tricky match and Cagliari will cause us problems, but we need to try to overcome these obstacles. We are motivated, we have a duty and we also need to enjoy trying to finish off this season in style.
“If the results and performances we put it post-lockdown an important message for next season, considering the words of Bennacer who said that when we returned to working at Milanello in May we were exhausted? It’s hugely important, that’s what we need to do. We need to work, think about improving, trying to get better. We need to think about what we’re doing but it will only be partly sufficient if we are to secure the targets that we have for next season. We need to be involved in the pre-qualifying rounds of the Europa League, we need to go through three rounds and if we’re able to get into the Europa League Group Stage then that will be another important objective for our season. Going back to the comments from Bennacer, the best thing that he said – I think – is that we enjoy ourselves, I think that’s the best thing and that shows that we have worked professionally and also that we’ve been relaxed enough, and this is a way of working that we really must continue to do.
“A message for the fans? I’d like to say hello to all our fans both in Italy and overseas. We’d like to thank them, it’s rather unusual. Almost 800,000 fans have supported us whilst it was possible at San Siro, cumulatively. Naturally we’re disappointed that we were unable to share all of our relative success in this last period with all of their support but I know there’s a lot of excitement and enthusiasm and I know that the unveiling of the new home kit brought a lot of smiles to many people’s faces and with them we’ll certainly be a stronger side, so I hope to see them very soon so they can get behind us and we can all be together. Because if we’ve been done a good job and been a good team without them then we’ll be stronger with them.”