Pierre Kalulu has given an extensive interview to Eurosport, discussing how he handles pressure, his aspirations to play for France and much more.
Kalulu has proven himself time after time this season to be a reliable choice at the back for coach Stefano Pioli, whether he plays as a right-back or center-back.
Tonight, the 21-year-old Pierre, will be at Stadio Arechi, to face Salernitana as Milan will hope to win and maintain their first place in the standings. On the day of the game, Eurosport France posted an interview with Kalulu, done by Guillaume Maillard-Pacini.
You seem to have taken on a whole new dimension with Milan in recent weeks…
“It’s true that I’ve had a string of matches since January, thanks to or because of certain absences. But that’s football. I am always ready. When you’re at a club like Milan, which is an institution, you always have to feel like a starter. When you’re called on to play, you have to be there. I think that’s how everyone sees themselves, and I do too.”
Do you have a preference for your position on the pitch?
“Actually, my preferences change depending on the match, the team composition, the opponent… It depends on how you have to play. It depends on how you have to play. I can enjoy playing as a full-back in some games, and in others as a central defender. Everything can vary depending on the mood of the match and what is asked of me. I have no preference. In my training at OL, I was already shuffled around a lot.”
After a long period of prospecting this winter, your directors in the end recruited no central defender. Is this a sign of confidence for you?
“As far as rumours are concerned, we are used to them. Since I’ve been at Milan, it’s always the same thing at each mercato, and this time it was the defender… You adapt. But it’s obvious that when I see certain statements [those of Maldini], it gives me great pleasure, especially when they come from a former legend of the position. It’s rewarding.”
Alessandro Costacurta, former Milan’s great Italian defender, recently said he was “amazed” by your progress. How do you feel about all the praise you’ve received from the Italian press?
“When former great players say things like that, there’s always something extra. They know top-level football and the characteristics of the position, with all the components that go with it. The position of defender is perhaps more thankless than others, where a mistake can be costly and ruin all the work done beforehand. More generally, compliments are always pleasant, whether they come from journalists or from people in your daily life.”
Where do you find this tranquility that characterizes each of your performances?
“Honestly, the players of my generation were trained with this spirit. There was a lot of expectation around us from a very young age, especially when you are trained at the club. At OL, we trained players for the Champions League, not only for Ligue 1. Unconsciously, by dint of repeating it to yourself, you integrate it. And you automatically become ready for the match, you are conditioned and prepared for it.”
How do you handle the pressure before a match?
“I’m always very focused before a match. But for me, there is no more pressure now than when I was playing big tournaments when I was younger. It’s the same pressure. With time, I think it even lessens. You learn to manage it and channel it. I know what I am capable of doing and showing. Today, there is more of a desire to show what I am capable of rather than apprehension.”
Do you have a feeling of revenge for certain doubts from when you left Lyon?
“No, just a feeling of pride and pleasure. It’s good to be able to show what you are capable of, to make your loved ones proud and those who love you in general. I’m happy with what’s going on.”
What did you discover at Milan?
“As a youngster, I missed the big years of the club a bit. When I came here, I really discovered its immensity. There are fans everywhere [laughs]. Wherever we go, in Rome, Salerno or even further South, there are always tifosi waiting for the team at the airport, at the hotel… It’s important, you can feel that they are always with you. Honestly, I didn’t expect that. Here, there is always a demand for results, whether in training or in matches. There is a minimum level to be had and you always have to give your all. That’s the hallmark of the big clubs.”
Despite his injuries, what does a player like Ibrahimović bring to your life?
“He is still very important in the dressing room and on the pitch, where he has scored a lot of goals this season. We can say that it’s mainly thanks to him that we are on the right track today. It is now up to us to prove that we have understood what he tried to convey. When he returns, we will certainly be even better.”
With Yacine Adli, who will join you next summer, the French and French-speaking colony will grow even more in Milanello…
“I don’t mind [laughs]! We speak French between us, but on the pitch we always try to do it in Italian so that everyone understands. This means above all that there are quality players in France and that we export well. We are observed and sought after, it’s gratifying. For all the newcomers, it is also an additional help for the adaptation. In particular, we explain the different expectations that exist here, as well as certain subtleties… It’s always good to have some reference points.”
How is the adaptation of Olivier Giroud, who has already scored ten goals this season, going?
“He is a very high level player. And yet, he always has this desire to progress, to learn or to score. What impresses me is his movement and his intelligence. I’ve obviously followed him at his various clubs but, on a daily basis, you tell yourself that this is a very high level. On top of that, he learned Italian very quickly. He’s not perfect yet but it’s coming along [laughs]. He has just scored four goals in three matches. Giroud commands respect. When he is good, it’s perfect for us.”
Mike Maignan has been impressing everyone since his arrival in Milan. Is he currently the best goalkeeper in Serie A?
“For me, the answer is yes after his first half of the season. He was able to save us when we needed it. His footwork impresses me every day, he even made an assist [against Sampdoria]. Mike has been a leader since he arrived, even when he didn’t speak the language. He doesn’t hesitate to say what he has to say, to lead us. He’s a player with a great work ethic every day. Just seeing him makes you want to follow him. You can say that he is a natural leader, on the pitch and in words. On top of that, he has the experience of having won. He knows what it takes to be successful. If, on top of that, he starts to make assists…”
After being selected for the French national team and wearing the captain’s armband in Milan, Theo Hernández recently extended his contract. Do you hope to follow in his footsteps?
“All people who are in a pattern of success is inspiring. Even in my first months, when I was playing less, I watched him from the bench and it was already impressive. His extension is a logical consequence, as is his call-up to the French team. He came to Milan, he evolved here and showed what he was capable of. That’s the path we all want to take. Theo is an example.”
Are you still dreaming of the French team? It seems that the position of right back is up for grabs…
“Les Bleus is obviously a dream. We talk about the World Champion team, with great players… When you are a young player, it is inevitably something that is part of your ambition. You want to evolve at that level and reach the elite. But I think that comes through good performances, already with Milan, and then qualifying with the Espoirs [under-21 side]. If that happens, I will have had a good season with Milan. It would be a reward for the hard work.”
Doesn’t being part of a group of world champions frighten you?
“If I look back on my career, which started not so long ago, I have already discovered many things. The Serie A, the Europa League, the Champions League… If you had asked me before all these matches, I would have answered that I don’t know. You can’t know at that moment, only the pitch gives you answers. Answering ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is just a lot of hot air. It doesn’t prove anything. It’s on the pitch that everything happens. When you work and when you are in a club like this, you prepare yourself for this kind of moment. We work for that.”
Have you ever received a pre call-up or a call from Guy Stéphan [France NT assistant coach]?
“Even if I had received a call, I wouldn’t say it here… [Smiles].”
Milan is currently leading the Serie A, do you believe in the Scudetto?
“Everything can turn around very quickly. We saw that in the derby, where we were behind before finally turning things around. We could have fallen behind. We want to do something this season. Last year, we had a good one, even a very good one. And in the end, we didn’t win anything. There was inevitably a taste of unfinished business. Personally, I want to win something this season.”
How do you approach about the two-legged tie against Inter scheduled for the semi-final of the Coppa Italia?
“It has to add something to it. When you get to this stage of the competition, there are only three games left before the final victory. It’s the quickest way to win something. We know that Inter will come back with more desire after their league defeat. They will be fired up, but so will we.”
The Italian media have been talking for several days about your possible extension with Milan…
“I feel good here and I have integrated perfectly into the club. I speak the language quite well and I am comfortable in my everyday life. In addition, the team’s current results make me want to continue here. I want to do good things with Milan and I want to stay here. There’s no reason to want to leave.”
Do you keep an eye on the Ligue 1 and on OL’s performances?
“Of course. Things are going a bit better for Lyon now… We also talk about it with the people I know there. I hope that they will get back on track without deviating. More generally, I follow a lot of championships. I’m a real football fan. I’ve always been in it. When I was younger, I used to start with Premier League matches on Saturdays in the early afternoon before finishing with Ligue 1 on Sunday evening. I watch at least four games a weekend.”