Pioli on the leaders of his Milan and the role of Ibrahimović, renewal talks with Leão, what De Ketelaere needs to do, playing halves of 30 minutes & more…

Stefano Pioli during training at Milanello. (@acmilan.com)

Stefano Pioli has given a long interview to Sky, discussing many things.

Milan returned to training last Friday as they begin preparation for the second part of the season. Coach Stefano Pioli does not have his entire squad available, as some are still either involved in the World Cup or are on a post-WC vacation, but Milanello once again hosts the Champions of Italy on a daily basis.

Pioli was a guest last night on Sky Calcio Club, sitting in the company of Fabio Caressa, Beppe Bergomi, Luca Marchegiani, Marco Bucciantini and Paolo Di Canio. Stefano was asked about various topics, as reported by Milannews.it and Sky.

The first topic on the agenda was the World Cup, and in particular the great performance of Olivier Giroud who scored, again, in the Round of 16 to help France beat Poland 3-1.

On Giroud: “I think Oli is at an optimal psychophysical moment. He took on this World Cup in great shape, he had great enthusiasm for it and he is proving to be a great player. I am happy for him and for Theo Hernández, I hope they continue like this. I only needed to have a couple of video calls with him before he came here to understand the kind of man he is, and then he is a great player. He works for the team, he scores goals, and he has always made a big impact, not only with goals. I was convinced that the club had signed a great player. A great guy, motivated, serene. He has all the characteristics of a leader. Is it better to return to Milanello sooner or go on to win the World Cup? It’s always easier to coach happy and motivated players. Kjær has come back disappointed, for example. Denmark was taking on the World Cup for the first time with higher expectations.”

Olivier Giroud celebrating during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Round of 16 match between France and Poland at Al Thumama Stadium on December 04, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images)

On Leão: “I gave a rule to the players who are at the World Cup: they can rest easy but they have the obligation to call me at the end of every game to tell me how they are. Leão plays very little in Portugal? It’s difficult to judge, Portugal have a high-level squad. If you see him in training, you immediately understand his incredible potential. He has a technique combined with a speed that few have. Over time he has developed and understood how to play, and how to be in a place like Milan where the pressures are different. It took time but the potential to be great was all there. I think he still needs to make a leap to become a Champion. Where he fits more? It depends on the strategy of the game, 1v1 he becomes difficult to catch. But there are times when he centralizes and other times when he drops too low. Such offensive players need to be closer to the penalty area. He can play everywhere. I think he can become even more decisive in the opponent’s area. He is a very intelligent guy who is very approachable. However, we are talking about players who are talented and they must have freedom in the last 30 meters. I want him to close more at the far post, I always tell him that. He should have more of an impact.”

On Leão’s renewal: “I am sure of 2 things: that Leão is fine with us, because I see him and I hear him, and that Paolo and Rafa are talking. So we are waiting for good news. I love Rafa, I think his journey with us is not over yet. He is well with his teammates and he is well in Milano, everywhere.”

Rafael Leão celebrating during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group H match between Portugal and Ghana at Stadium 974 on November 24, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

On if this World Cup is of individuals or teams: “I think the 2022 tournament is more of a World Cup of individuality. I think the reason is simple: in the past they spent 50 days together, now they began after a week together. It’s difficult for a coach to give a precise and complete identity. Even if Luis Enrique has succeeded – Spain play the best football. There have been no big surprises at the technical-tactical level. They looked more at solidity and individuality since every game has an important specific weight. We played the last game, which was very important, against Fiorentina, and I didn’t see my players thinking about the World Cup. Getting acclimatized in one week and finding the right concentration must not have been easy.”

On how the players will return from the break: “For those who have caught their breath it was a good break in my opinion; those who weren’t at the World Cup will arrive in January in excellent physical and mental condition. As for those who’ve played at the World Cup, I don’t know how they will arrive, it’s a question mark. On paper those who have fewer players at the World Cup have an advantage, however we’ll see…”

The squad during training at Milanello. (@acmilan.com)

On the lockdown and the Rangnick situation: “I had all the support from the technical area. But also from Gazidis, who has always behaved well. At the time he told us that we were all under discussion until the end of the campaign and that we had to focus only on the pitch. During the lockdown we trained using video calls on Zoom and then when we got together something changed. We lost the first game but then everything changed.”

On the path made and on Maldini: “If we’ve made this path it’s because all the components have contributed. From the first day I entered Milanello I felt good and the discussion with Maldini and Massara gave me more strength in my work. It’s something that gives the Coach more strength and more confidence. Maldini is not just there to watch the training, he is there to relate with everyone, he is a central figure. We are talking about a person of an incredible level of knowledge of this DNA.”

Stefano Pioli, Frederic Massara and Paolo Maldini during training at Milanello. (@acmilan.com)

On the example of Ibrahimović: “Without taking anything away from anyone, Zlatan has been instrumental in the growth of the team. He arrived in a young group and for the first time, in a non-winning team and with players not similar to him, and he understood it’s a different reality. Everyone was able to accept his merits and flaws. His mentality and determination raised the level of the team. In the first year training with him was at one level, and without him it was at a different level. The teammates were good at following him. But not only him, there have been other leaders like Kjær, Giroud and Maignan who drive the group forward. We have 4-5 leading players who helm me a lot. Zlatan is doing everything to come back. At the end of December or early January he will work on the pitch.”

On the Christmas break after the 5-0 defeat against Atalanta: “I think it was the game that started the construction of the new Milan. We understood that we needed different characteristics and other players to play the football we wanted. The technical area, mercato after mercato, has brought new characteristics, in terms of mind, physicality and talent.”

On the project: “Paolo and Ricky wanted to invest in certain players with sustainable costs for a club that wanted to pursue a certain type of path. It is a path that does not give immediate results, but we were good at anticipating these timelines.”

Stefano Pioli and Zlatan Ibrahimović during training at Milanello. (@acmilan.com)

On the death of Astori: “What happened to Davide touched me deeply. Unfortunately, and I say unfortunately, it was a situation that allowed me to grow, to improve. After his loss, I considered new situations in managing the team. They helped me to understand, observe and stay even closer to my players. The blow was tremendous. When we met 2 days later, I felt like I was getting so close to them. With each one I tried to understand him and helm him overcome a difficult moment, and they helped me. Now I’m closer to the players and I protect them more. It wasn’t an easy situation to manage.

On getting fired: “I’m here today, I think, because we won the Scudetto. But the negative experiences have helped me to improve, not the positive situations. What does it feel like to be fired? It’s a blow, it prevents you from finishing your work. Any time you get fired you think it’s unfair, except for me that one time in Palermo. But after the moment of pain, you try to understand why it came. After each negative situation, I started again with greater awareness.”

On losing his job at Palermo before the start of the season in 2011/12: “We were eliminated from the Europa League preliminaries against FC Thun. I didn’t fit well into the environment. We had to play the first match against Novara on artificial turf; as soon as we finished training to prepare ourselves on that pitch, I was notified of the strike and that the first match would not be played. We then organized a friendly against Napoli, which we lost. Back at Palermo, at the sports center, I found many journalists at the entrance. I still didn’t know anything. As soon as I got inside, the warehouse workers began hugging me and then I understood something had happened. The President then called me; after an intro, he told me everything: ‘If I do not sack you today then it will happen at the next match’. I agreed with him, I wasn’t fitting in. I have good memories of President Zamparini, he was very right with me.”

Stefano Pioli during training at Milanello. (@acmilan.com)

On points of reference for him: “There are so many coaches… I want a lot of games of Guardiola, Nagelsmann and Klopp… Every great coach has a main characteristic. If you want to look at verticality, then look at Klopp. If you want a more modern one, which is where we’re trying to go, for the reading of spaces – which does not mean which player has to go where, but what space he has to occupy – then you look at Guardiola. And so on. I told Guardiola that everyone compliments him on the offensive phase, but for me he is best at winning the ball back. I completed my staff with young video analysts who helped me get to know new situations. And I’m lucky to coach available players. Like, for example, when I proposed to Theo and Calabria to play in the middle of the pitch, I saw enthusiasm from them. If I ask a player to do something and he doesn’t like it then I take a step back. Not all opponents are equal, but our idea is not to let the other teams play. Are we more stretched and less compact than last year? Yes, but because with the midfielders we close down less, we concede the first pass… we have to be quicker. Then we put in a more offensive trequartista. Sometimes we played with Rebić and Leão as wingers, we’ve been more offensive. And also because we force going deep with the ball too much: if you stretch the team then you struggle. We need to move the ball around more in the opponent’s half of the field. Great teams move the ball around and always have players who go in deep, but they don’t necessarily have to be served if they are followed by the opponent. The team wants to become complete, wants to get to a higher level. Opponents change and the players must have the ability to read the situation.”

On playing with Platini: “He enjoyed playing against me in training because, at the very least, he nutmegged me every time. He was a Champion. In that Juventus I experienced a really high-level environment. Real Champions, inside and out. It was very important to me.”

Ante Rebić during training at Milanello. (@acmilan.com)

On the key games for the Scudetto: “The year prior, we had finished 2nd. We found ourselves sand told ourselves that to improve we could only win. Every game was decisive because we only won by two points. The Derby and the game against Lazio, however, were the turning point.”

On the role of the trequartista: “When a midfielder plays in the trequartista role it definitely gives you a more solid defensive phase. But this year we haven’t gotten worse in terms of numbers defensively. With the World Cup we are all making too limited judgments: Vranckx, Thiaw and De Ketelaere arrived 3 months ago, and it’s normal that it takes time for a young player coming from another league. We also trained very little.”

Aster Vranckx during training at Milanello. (@acmilan.com)

On De Ketelaere: “For me he is a midfielder who has to vary: I gave him freedom, but without the ball he has to have precise directions. In Belgium he was playing alone, without realizing the collaboration of his teammates, here he has to read the spaces occupied by others. I’m convince this break can help him. Tonali and Leão, for example, I left them at the end of the season in one state and then at the start of pre-season I found them in a different state. Maybe they needed time to metabolize because it’s not easy to take in so much information. This year I saw this in Bennacer and Messias.”

On Kalulu: “Pierre is such a good guy that it seems difficult for you to have that kind of personality on the field. He also has a mature player’s serenity. He also overcomes mistakes: he doesn’t dwell or weaken. During training sessions, he seemed more comfortable as a center back. He has a better interpretation of the game as a full-back. Pierre and Tomori have characteristics for modern football, even if sometimes risks are taken.”

Charles De Ketelaere during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Group F match between Belgium and Morocco at Al Thumama Stadium on November 27, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

On Napoli: “They have quality in all players on the pitch. It’s a team coached very well by a great coach. We played a good game against them, we did not deserve to lose, but in all situations where they could put us in difficulty they did it. If we expected it at the beginning of the season? We didn’t think, given that it’s a team that lost Insigne, Fabián Ruiz and Koulibaly, that they would be competitive right away. They are playing great football and they are winning by playing well. I am convinced that the league is still very long and there are some teams that can make 8-10-11 wins in a row, including us. Juventus? I was amazed at the start of their season, not at how well they are doing now. They’ve done these results without Di Maria, Pogba and Chiesa. Their squad is among the top in the league.

On the Italian league: “The league is rising both at the level of the big teams, but also at the level of the teams who are not fighting for the Scudetto. These are difficult matches, you have to keep the level high.”

The squad during training at Milanello. (@acmilan.com)

On building from behind: “We play with our principles. I always that the players that we need to know how to counter, if we are more in our defensive half of the field then we play short; otherwise we go long. A trend? I don’t think so, everyone carries out their own way of thinking. The ultimate will is to raise the level of play and have results. To be a coach you have to put costs and benefits on the plate, that’s how I think.”

On the many minutes of added-time in the World Cup: “I struggle to understand why we don’t get ‘effective time’. Collina’s motivation is correct, because we also happened to actually play only 46-47 minutes. Expanding the added-time that much… I don’t know, because of those 12 minutes how much is played? I would be in for two halves of 30 minutes, the players would waste less time. When the ball goes out, there are injuries or something else, then stop the stopwatch. Why in the Champions League why don’t they protest and stay on the ground…? Because they don’t let you. Why do referees in Italy, on corners, have to go to the area and tell them not to foul…? When you go to Europe the referee doesn’t explain anything to you, not here. You have to be a referee… there are too many explanations. You can’t allow the goalkeeper to waste time in the first 45 minutes.”

Stefano Pioli during training at Milanello. (@acmilan.com)

On perfect matches: “The perfect match does not exist. Maybe a match is perfect when a team, collectively and individually, makes the right choice. But it doesn’t exist in itself. My perfect Milan match? Maybe in Bergamo last year, 3-2, 3-0 until the 90th minute. And yes, against them against I came up with the idea of moving the fullbacks to the middle of the pitch.”

On the toughest team faced in the last 2 years: “Sérgio Conceição’s Porto. There we played with so many absences, two difficult games. But there’s also Antonio Conte, who will face. Conte is a great coach and Tottenham have strikers like Son Heung-min, Harry Kane, Dejan Kulusevski, Richarlison and Lucas Moura. We have to win, we have to have the winning mentality. We have the league, the Champions League, the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa Italiana. We have to win something, we are no longer a team that has not won. We know what to do, to be successful you need 10% talent and 90% sacrifice, work and mentality.”

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We need to clean up the squad and get Dalot and Kamada for the summer as free agents. Bakayoko, Ballo-Toure, Messias out. Adli and Thiaw loan out to Serie A side.


We need to get more Italians in our squad. A strong Milan needs an Italian core, vise versa for the Azzurri