Pioli: “I expect a stronger Milan in the Champions League, there was a perfect mix and that made us give more than 100 percent, I wish Kessié the best”

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Stefano Pioli celebrating after winning the Scudetto at the end of Sassuolo-Milan at Mapei Stadium – Città del Tricolore on May 22, 2022. (@acmilan.com)

Stefano Pioli has spoken to AS, discussing the Frenchmen of Milan, Brahim, Theo, the possibility of having Asensio and more.

After almost 20 years in the business of coaching, Pioli finally won his first Scudetto, giving Milan their first Serie A title since winning it back in 2011.

The Milan boss, after celebrating heavily this week with his staff and players, sat down for an interview with Mirko Calemme of AS to discuss some things.

Mister, you have just experienced an unforgettable party…
“It was incredible. It’s one of the most beautiful things that can happen to you. Seeing our tifosi happy has been the most rewarding of everything we did.”

Your medal was stolen… Did you get it back?
“They haven’t given it to me yet, but they already have it kept at Casa Milan [laughs].”

A screen showing Milan as Champions in Milano on March 26, 2022. (@acmilan.com)

At what point did you think the Scudetto was possible?
“We always believed, but there were two key matches: the comeback in the Derby and the victory over Lazio. Winning the last 6 games, despite having the worst schedule, showed our mental strength.”

You said that Theo could become the best fullback in the world. His season and the goal against Atalanta proved you right…
“It was spectacular… and rare. If you look at the play – he could have done a thousand other things. He could have passed the ball earlier, get help from a teammate, shot earlier – all things that, perhaps, were the right things to do. But Theo is like the wrath of God, he has incredible strength and determination. This year he has become a more complete player, it was good for him to go to the France national team, because that means he’s reached a high level. He is already one of the best fullbacks in the world, but I still believe he has room for improvement.”

Brahim Díaz, Theo Hernández, Samu Castillejo and Ante Rebić celebrating the Scudetto with the team bus on May 23, 2022. (@acmilan.com)

The former Real Madrid player, Maignan, Kalulu, Bakayoko, Giroud: it’s a very French Milan…
“The Frenchmen have a peculiar characteristic: on the pitch they never give up, they give everything. And when I work with people like that, I feel good. They raised the level of the team.”

Brahim started very well. After getting COVID, he struggled to return to his best form…
“Many people forget that Brahim is still young and that it was his first experience as a starter in a big team. It also happened to Tonali a year ago, it can happen that such an important pressure leads to ups and downs. He started out great, I agree, then injuries and COVID took away his confidence and maybe also some decision of mine. I’m sure, however, that he is a great player, with enormous quality and he’s very useful for the way we play.”

So you want him to stay?
“Yes, of course I do.”

Brahim Díaz celebrating the Scudetto with the team bus on May 23, 2022. (@acmilan.com)

Do you think Serie A can get closer to the other big league again?
“The level is rising thanks to the ‘small’ teams, who are developing more intense and attacking football. We should have less breaks during matches and less time wasting. In Europe the intensity is high and we pay for that. Of course there is an important difference in terms of investments and that is an unavoidable weight.”

You are in favor of effective time…
“That already happens in several sports. I don’t accept it when they tell me there’s an 8-minute of added time, because if you don’t intervene when a team wastes time then you take away the intensity of the game. It would be a rule that brings benefits, especially in Italy.”

Ancelotti agrees with you. By the way, has he called you?
“Carlo often talks with Maldini, he congratulated me through him. He is a Great. He won in all the leagues, he has an intelligence and a sensitivity that goes beyond normal. He knows how to manage great teams and great players like nobody else.”

Milan fans celebrating the Scudetto with the team bus on May 23, 2022. (@acmilan.com)

With Ancelotti works Asensio, who has been linked to Milan. Would you like him?
“He is a great player, but he’s of Real Madrid and I’m too happy with my players to talk about others.”

You showed that it’s possible to win with a lot of young players…
“That was the idea of the club, but there was enormous support for our work. They know that if you work with youngsters then you need time, but we got to this result because people like Zlatan, Ibra, Maignan and Florenzi were a reference for the younger ones. There was a perfect mix, empathy between everyone, and that made us give more than 100%.”

Why is so hard to invest in young talent in Italy?
“I don’t think any coach cares about the age of the player. We are still not working to bring in more talent. We need to talk about that with the clubs, about how and how much they invest in the youth system. I’ve been a youth coach and I know that one of the most important things is to choose the right coach for each age. Then, you have to understand which players can go far, even if they are not ready yet. It’s not easy.”

Milan fans celebrating the Scudetto with the team bus on May 23, 2022. (@acmilan.com)

Do you use ‘big data’ a lot in your day-to-day work?
“Everything has changed. When I started out, I only had one collaborator and now have a coaching staff of 11 people. In fact, I’m going to ask for another one for trends of the game. You have to know how to read this data, we use it especially for positioning, seeing which players perform better together. Of course, feelings make the difference in the end. It’s difficult for me to choose a player because an analyst tells me that he had a 78% success rate. I still believe in the looks of my players and in what they transmit to me.”

Donnarumma, Çalhanoğlu and now Kessié – how do you manage a top player when his departure is certain?
“By looking only at what the pitch says. I never saw any of them be superficial. I saw enormous attention, professionalism and desire to prove that they were very good. They worked great and for that reason I always wish them all the best, like I wish Franck the best. He is a guy who has proven to be a great player and a great person, always working with a smile on his face. I hope everything goes great for him, at Barça or wherever – unless we meet in the Champions League. That’s where I hope to beat him [laughs].”

Milan lifting the Scudetto at the end of Sassuolo-Milan at Mapei Stadium – Città del Tricolore on May 22, 2022. (@acmilan.com)

Do you expect a stronger Milan in the Champions League?
“Yes, without a doubt. This year’s games have taught us a lot and we will be in Pot 1. We have increased our value and experience and we are going to play this competition with the idea of qualifying.”

Do you think your work was not sufficiently recognized before?
“In football it’s normal. I always felt appreciated where I worked, trying to leave everything better than I found it. Now that I am praised with the Scudetto it’s part of the game. But this is how it is – either you’re very good or very bad. Labels don’t interest me, each coach has his ideas. On Saturday we’ll see a final with two huge coaches, but with different ideas. There are many ways but the best solution is always the one that makes your players comfortable. They are the ones who make the difference.”

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