Sandro Tonali sat down for an extensive interview with MilanTV.
After three intense months and then a World Cup break, Serie A returns in less than a month and the Rossoneri know they’ll need to have a very strong second half of the season in order to win the Scudetto for the second time in a row.
The Diavolo are now in Dubai for a training camp and yesterday Tonali, one of Milan’s symbols, held an interview with MilanTV:
We’re in Dubai for this training camp. What are your first thoughts after returning to work following almost a month away?
“My feelings are positive because we’re back together after a while apart. Some of the guys were on international duty. Then there are those who went to the World Cup and are already back. The others will arrive in the next few days. We’re happy to be back together as we look ahead to the second part of the season.”
What effect has this situation had on you? You’re used to more standard seasons that begin at the end of August and finish at the end of May. This time around, there’s a long break after three very intense months.
“It’s a bit unusual but, in football, you need to be ready for anything. It’s been a test for us with these three months where we played once every three days, followed by such a long break, something which is very unusual in football, and then there’s the final half of the campaign. However, as I said, you need to be ready for anything. We need to do the same things we did in the first part of the season and improve in the second part.”
How did you make the most of the approximately 20 days you had off? Did you have time to rest, get away and meet up with people who you don’t often get to see during the season?
“I think the most important thing about this break was being able to rest. We did this as best we could. Now, it’s time to return to the pitch and go again, to have clearer heads than during the first part of the season and play without any worries.”
We’re here while the World Cup is going on in Qatar. How has the tournament been for you and have you been able to get in touch with your teammates involved in it? As you said, some are already back.
“Yes, a few. I spoke with Rafa [Leão] Simon [Kjær], the French guys. I was also able to have a chat with Charles [De Ketelaere]. They talked a bit about what it was like there and what the World Cup was like. I’m pleased for our two Frenchmen, who can still win it. We wish them all the best.”
Unfortunately, Italy didn’t qualify for this World Cup. You’re part of the Azzurri setup. How can the team bounce back ahead of the Euros, a competition that Italy won last time?
“Not being involved in the World Cup for the second time in a row hurts, especially this year. After winning the Euros, not qualifying wasn’t nice. However, we can’t let our heads drop. We need to bounce back aware that there’s a European Championship to play for and we’re a strong team.”
As regards difficult moments, has there been a particular person who you’re really close to and who has been there during the most complicated moments of your career and, above all, your life?
“There have been many people, starting with my family and my girlfriend. And then there have been many people in the game who are part of the team and on the staff who really lend their support. People who I’ve grown close to over time and as the years have gone by. They help you by providing advice that you perhaps need during difficult moments.”
We’re in Dubai, a city that has grown exponentially and at an incredible rate in the past few years. Can both you and Milan relate to this since your arrival? Are you currently on such a trajectory?
“Yes, we’ve made great strides forward. We started with the basics and, slowly but surely, by taking one step at a time, we ended up winning the Scudetto last season. We have a strong team that can compete in every game. Last season was proof of our journey, which didn’t just take place last year. It was the culmination of a journey we’d undertaken together alongside the Coach.”
In the last couple of days, we were able to have a conversation with Zlatan Ibrahimović, who talked to us about how, also thanks to his experience, he experiences football and a lot else, too. At the age of 22, how do you deal with the pressure? How do you handle certain personal and football moments? What was winning like? Beyond joy, what emotions did you experience? Do you now feel more responsible? How did you experience it?
“It’s difficult to explain but both great and bad moments need to be experienced with emotion because you’re at Milan and you know you need to give a lot both during difficult times and during moments when everything is going well, as was the case last season. Our level needs to be very high. Everyone demands a lot so there’s never a game where your standards and focus can drop. We know that we’re at Milan and we need to give everything. An unusually high standard is required. At this point, we’re used to playing as Milan players should. We need to do this in all the games we play wearing this shirt.”
You’re used to being an Milan player but I imagine that it’s always been special. You’ve often stressed how much of a dream it is to wear the Rossoneri shirt. The impression you give on a daily basis… There was the footage of you giving a young fan a shirt in one of the last matches. Do such gestures help you nurture your relationship with the fans day by day?
“Playing for Milan gives you a sense of… it means doing a lot. It isn’t enough to win a match and then sit back. Every week… for the Coach, high standards are important during training, too. He cares about every small detail and he transmits this to us. This is vital. We have a great relationship. The Coach makes us understand that we need to show everything we have and give everything we can on the pitch and during every training session.”
What kind of person is Stefano Pioli and what kind of figure has he been in your career?
“In terms of his character, he’s a humble person. I think he’s a helpful person for everyone, including myself. He’s been especially helpful in my case because he knows how to coach me. There was a slightly difficult moment for me but he understood me straight away and we constantly talked. We still do now. I think he’s been a vital part of my journey here at Milan. I’d like to thank him. For us, he’s our helper more than our Coach. He’s someone who talks to you every day. This is especially the case with me. He helps you in all respects both on and off the pitch. He’s a fantastic person.”
In your opinion, what does it mean to be a leader?
“We have several leaders here at Milan. Starting with the biggest leader of all, Ibra. He always gives us… With him, it’s like having a second head coach. He has more experience than all of us put together. He can help us a lot and has already done so but he can help us take the next step all together. He and Simon [Kjær] have… played in several European leagues and been successful. They know what it means to win and build on success. They’re the first leaders who can push us forward.”
You’re still very young but have been here for a few seasons now and you have the right charisma to introduce new arrivals to the changing room. How are you helping all these youngsters who are arriving? What kind of support are you providing to help them settle in?
“We’re a very young group so it’s easy for a new teammate to get integrated. We’re lucky to have an open group where the players are willing to do anything for each other. This is something that made a difference last season, too.”
You made your 100th Milan appearance in Cremona. If you close your eyes, where do you dream of being in 4-5 years?
“I don’t know but I hope… I’ll play many more games in this shirt and not just in five years’ time. I really hope to… win trophies and wear this shirt as much as possible.”
I’ve got two more things to ask you. Milan is turning 123. Given the relationship you’ve always had with the Club, first as a fan and then as a player, do you want to say anything in particular?
“Anybody who has played for Milan knows what it means to wear this shirt. We’re the latest players to do so. Looking back to last season, we perhaps understood what it means to triumph with Milan a few months after winning the Scudetto. It took a while to sink in. This is a very important shirt in both Italian and European football and we’re proud to wear it.”
One last thing: we’re looking ahead to the future now because in 2023, we have a Supercoppa Italiana showdown with Inter. You’ll be involved in your first Champions League round of 16 tie and then there will be the final stages of the league season. What are you expecting the new year to bring? How motivating is it to be involved in such a busy schedule where there’s the opportunity to experience more joy after such a brilliant 2022.
“It’s great that we’ll have so many games and playing so often is great. We know what it’s like to play every three days. We did this for the first three months. We’re very much ready for this. The preparations we’re currently undertaking will help us as we start the next and final part of the season. A lot of things await us. The first thing we need to do is win but take things game by game.”