Sandro Tonali has given an interview to La Gazzetta dello Sport, discussing chasing Napoli, Bennacer and Leão, De Ketelaere and the role of Pioli.
Milan are currently in Duabi for a training camp and the love of the fans for Tonali is evident in the Middle East as well: the Emirati Milanisti wear Ibra’s 11 jersey, an old 3 of Maldini, a 9 in tribute of Giroud, and also Tonali’s 8; they call him ‘Sandro’ as they clamor for selfies and autographs.
Tonali sat down for an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport’s Alessandra Gozzini, as the team prepares for today’s friendly against Liverpool (16:30 CET).
Tonali, does the push to catch Napoli come from here?
“Do we believe in it? If anything, I wonder the opposite – why shouldn’t we believe in it? We are confident for two reasons. First, because more than half of the matches have not been played yet – there are plenty of points available. And second, because this Milan is really strong.”
Stronger than last year?
“Certainly more experienced. It’s true that we’ve dropped points along the way, there have been games we’re not fully satisfied with. And it’s a mistake we don’t want to repeat. The goal is to try to win them all, we have the qualities to do it.”
Beyond qualities, is there a secret to succeeding?
“Staying united. That’s how we won the Scudetto last season: everyone, from us players to those working in the Casa Milan offices, rowed in the same direction. Today we are fine, we are almost all back available. There is a Milan spirit that can be contagious: at least I feel it, I sense it. And as it works for me, I think it works for everyone. With the other national team returns and recoveries from injuries – we will be even more competitive. Ibrahimović will be the added value when he is ready to come back, he’s a Champion. But we have a lot of top players: whoever has the ball makes you feel in safe hands.”
What can Tonali add, on the other hand?
“I don’t do anything alone, I am part of a group. The only way to win again is to think as a team. Today we know it well: we know the difference between finishing first and second. Well, it makes all the difference in the world. And we want to try to relieve what we experienced last season.”
What words does Pioli use to push you to attempt an encore?
“He talks to us a lot, gives us advice and suggestions. The last one was 2 days ago, but I cannot reveal what he told me… Pioli is our driving force, he helps us, and he tries in every way to get the smallest detail out of each of us that can make a difference. He is the person who more than anything else gives us balance, on and off the pitch.”
Will he be able to convince De Ketelaere as well?
“I speak because I experienced a similar situation firsthand. For me it was almost easier because when I started playing more consistently, the stadiums were closed and were without fans: I could afford a mistake of an extra play, I had less pressure. Charles is very strong, he just needs to be waited for: he is young and comes from another league. As happened to me, when he starts playing more he will gain more and more confidence: now it’s all a mental matter. But, I repeat, time is on his side.”
Do you also feel promising for the other young players who arrived in the summer?
“They have all made a positive impact; they seem to have been here for 3-4 seasons. The fact that we are a young group helps them, and they have been assisted. We are really very much a ‘team’: if something doesn’t work for one, it doesn’t work for everyone. There is no such thing as a bad moment for a player, especially for them. The bad moment is either everyone’s or no one’s. And if I deserve credit, then it’s credit to the team.”
Judgments on other teammates: first, Bennacer, the other half of the midfield. Contract expiring in 2024 – do you have an appeal to convince him to stay?
“Ismaël is fundamental for us, I have no other adjectives. You find him everywhere, he runs for everyone and he raises the level of play in terms of quality. I, for one, feel facilitated if I see him by my side, it makes everything easier for me. I hope with all the good in the world that he stays. He knows better than I do, because he arrived earlier: he knows what it means to play for Milan and to do it at San Siro. He knows the path that has been made and what we could still do in the future, together.”
Is the same true for Leão?
“He has different characteristics and a different role, but he is certainly a phenomenon. His story is a bit like mine: now we will decide what to do. All I can say is that he is experiencing it peacefully. I don’t get into his head and I don’t direct his choices: he knows what the best thing to do is. He’ll make the best decision for himself before for us.”
Tonali, on the other hand, chose Milan some time ago, with an extension until 2027. Is this where you see yourself for the rest of your career?
“Certainly I want to stay as long as possible. If you ask me today, I also say for the rest of my story. But it’s too early to make promises like that, in our career it’s not just desire that counts, many other factors affect us: health, injuries, family… it’s impossible to make such long-term predictions.”
Do you expect to become the strongest Italian midfielder around?
“Difficult question… I would never say that. The level of midfielders in our country is high: today Barella and Jorginho are ahead of me, they have more experience. In general, Inter have a very high-level midfield, Juventus as well. Milan, too. And we want to improve even more.”
With such a midfield, however, Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup…
“There is still great disappointment, fortunately for us, it’s now coming to an end in Qatar. It hurts to be left out for the second consecutive time, we are Italy. We have a team that is certainly up to a World Cup. We’ll give 101% for the national team.”
After the Scudetto, you got the tricolor tattooed on your arm. Do you have room for new designs on your body?
“I would say that I’m still pretty ‘white’. There is space and I want to fill it, I want to win. I even wrote it in a little letter to Santa Lucia, like when I was a child [laughs]. Maybe this time it’s my teammates who allow me to fulfill my wishes. It’s true that now the opponents face us with double the desire to try to beat the Champions. But the same applies to us: we have the Scudetto sewn on our chest and more desire than before to win.”