Diogo Dalot gave a long interview to SportWeek, discussing his serious persona, his relationship with Rafael Leão, his family background and more.
Dalot joined the club in the summer transfer market on loan from Manchester United and while he hasn’t been able to get into the starting XI of the Rossoneri due to the great performances of Davide Calabria and Theo Hernández, he’s proven himself to be a competent option.
It remains to be seen whether the Rossoneri will try to make an effort to keep Dalot at the club despite not having a buy-out option.
However, regardless of that, the 21-year-old is set to start tonight against Spezia and will most likely also find space against Crvena Zvezda in the Europa League on Thursday.
Diogo spoke to Fabrizio Salvio of La Gazzetta dello Sport’s weekend magazine SportWeek.
You are the seventh Portuguese player in the history of Milan. Only Rui Costa went down in history, winning a Scudetto and the Champions League. Is it just a coincidence or is it particularly difficult for someone who comes for your football to adapt to ours?
“On a physical level and in terms of game intensity, Italian football is certainly more demanding than Portuguese, but we who have come from that have already shown that we know how to adapt to different contexts. That’s what I’m doing here and it’s a source of pride for me.”
How much does age help? Are you and Leão doing well also thanks to being in your 20s and therefore you are more open to different footballs and cultures?
“I think so. We young people are more open to new things. The fact that I have known Liao for years and that I’ve been with him is helping me a lot, but I was also lucky in having found a group of players and a technical staff who are as one. This has accelerated my acclimatization.”
About Leão. Seeing you together, the impression is that you are very different: one is composed, calm, balanced also in your attitude, while the other is extravagant, starting with the clothing and hair, which he dyed blond. Is the sensation correct?
“Yes, we are quite different. Off the pitch he is much more extroverted and also on the pitch I seem to be more focused. It’s not that he isn’t, but let’s say he’s in a different mode. Perhaps this is why we are such friends, because we are complementary.”
Off the pitch, which of the two drags the other?
“I’m almost a father figure to him: I calm him down, I invite him to think before doing something, to take it easy. I stay close to him and tell him what is good and what is not good. He does the opposite: he says that I need to be more relaxed and that I shouldn’t worry too much about everything. We are the opposite of each other, it is fun.”
Does Rafa play jokes on me?
“I even put pictures on Instagram of him throwing snow at me at Milanello. He also teases me when I forget something for training. But without exaggerating because he knows I get angry.”
Leão, however, acknowledges your great merit, that of bringing the most beautiful music into the locker room.
“It’s true: I like Fado music. Only a person with a true musical culture can appreciate it. For us Portuguese it is history, tradition, culture… But I can’t expect to spread it at Milanello. Before training I play Reggaeton, Hip-Hop… in short, music that everyone can enjoy.”
Returning to Portuguese players in Italy, there is no one more famous than Cristiano Ronaldo: have you met him, apart from the Milan-Juve match?
“It happened this summer with the national team. We, the U21 team, were in the same hotel as the older players. I’d wanted to meet him for a long time, he’s always been a point of reference for me, my idol as a kid. And I hope to be able to share more moments with him, especially on the pitch while wearing the Portugal jersey.”
In a few days, Ronaldo will face one of your countryman, Sérgio Conceição, Porto’s coach, in the first leg of the Champions League Round of 16. It was Conceição who launched you into the world of football. What kind of guy is he?
“He has a very strong personality. He’s doing an important job and the results speak for him. He’s already taken the team to the Round of 16 and Quarterfinals of the Champions League, he doesn’t have a losing mentality.”
So Juve haven’t already passed the round?
“Juventus are making a mistake if they think they have already won. Porto are playing for it. They have a great opportunity to show that they are on the same level as the strongest teams. It’s true that they haven’t reached a final or a semifinal in a long time, but they are always there.”
Another Portuguese coach, Mourinho, coached you at Manchester United: what did he leave with you?
“Many things. First of all, he is the man who made me climb the ladder, having me play in an important league and in the most prestigious competition, the Champions League. Then, he always showed me, by explaining it to me, what I lacked to play at the highest level. And I like the way he manages the group.”
What do you like about Pioli?
“His ability to communicate with the players, making each one feel useful and special, whether he plays every game or takes the field once a month. As a coach he’s doing a fantastic job. The Serie A standings speaks for him.”
Sincerely: at this point in the season were you hoping to have played a bit more?
“When I accepted the offer of Milan, I had a more important objective than others – to feel again the smell of the grass; before that, to return to considering myself a football player after all the injuries that had held me back in the last three years. I succeeded. So far I’ve always been at the coach’s disposal. Then I wanted to prove that I deserved to play through daily work. And I think that I’ve achieved that goal as well: I’ve played 16 games so far. It seems to me very positive.”
Your competitor in the role is Calabria: what changes depending on who plays?
“From a fullback, Pioli wants balance: defensive compactness and the ability to push forward. Compared to Calabria, I’m perhaps a bit more offensive. Having different characteristics is an asset: Davide, Theo and I have different qualities and this is good because it gives the coach a choice and increases the competitiveness in training. In a big club like Milan, competition raises the overall level of the team.”
You rose to prominence in 2016, when you won the U17 European Championship with Portugal, establishing yourself as a fullback who sprints forward. Since then, you’ve worked a lot on the defensive phase and seem more reserved when it comes to attacking. In short, have those characteristics you mentioned earlier been distorted?
“Those are different moments of the career. The way I played in 2016 cannot be the same as today: the level of the game and of the opponents is higher. It becomes necessary to know how to defend. I understand the nature of the question but my objective is to become a complete player. When I retire I would like to have won a lot and for it to be said about me that I was a point of reference in my role.”
Speaking of wins: are you starting to believe in the Scudetto at Milanello?
“It’s normal when you get a lot of points and in the dressing room there are players, or former players, who are winners, like Zlatan, Bonera and Dida. The important thing is to keep the balance. If we manage to do that then I’m convinced that we’ll fight for the tile right to the end.”
Perhaps it’s easier to get to the end of the Europa League, which has fewer games…
“We have to respect Crvena Zvezda, the next opponents. The Milan badge we wear on our chests doesn’t win games on its own. Without the fans they lose out on a lot but they are still dangerous.”
Have you always played as a fullback?
“I started out as a winger, then at 13-14 I moved my position back.”
Was it your father who put the ball at your feet?
“He dreamed of being a football player but those were different times and my grandmother demanded that he would study. He became a lawyer, but I remember when he took me by hand to see Porto at the stadium. I was 4-5 years old. I saw Mou’s Porto win the Champions League. My mother was a teacher. Dalot is her last name; in Portugal it is customary to give the son his mother’s last name too. Dad is Jacinto.”
Father is a lawyer, mother a teacher: that’s why you grew up so serious. But is it possible that you’ve never done something crazy?
“It’s difficult to answer because since I was little I’ve been someone who weights up every decision, who cares about doing things the way they should be done and who worries a lot. My biggest ‘something crazy’ has been believing that I could become a player at this level. I took a risk going to Porto when I was 14, leaving for England when I was 18 and coming to Milano when I was 21. In my opinion, these are choices that have a bit of craziness.”