Leao lifts lid on working with Pioli and Ibrahimovic plus ‘cold’ relationship with Giampaolo

By Oliver Fisher -

Rafael Leao’s autobiography ‘Smile’ was released yesterday, and more interesting passages continue to be relayed regarding his time at AC Milan so far.

Leao arrived at Milan in the summer of 2019 from Lille and he has since developed into one of the best wingers in the world; a player capable of making the difference in any given game thanks to his pace, athleticism and eye for creating.

As mentioned, Leao’s book was released yesterday and within the ‘Milan’ chapter, the Portuguese spoke about his adventure with the Rossoneri and touched on what it is like to work with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

“We are asked to grow up quickly, I have always accepted the responsibility, but this does not mean that when you are younger you don’t need guiding figures, pillars that you can recognise in the midst of confusion, this was Ibrahimovic for me and for the whole group with whom he first regained qualification for the Champions League and then won the Scudetto,” he said (via MilanNews).

“The first thing that changed in the dressing room was to remind us that Milan’s extraordinary history was not thanks to us, not yet. From the moment he arrived, in January 2020, I understood that I didn’t have to let the fact of being a Milan player be enough but I had to prove it on the pitch.

“The second thing he helped me with was not technical but mental. Ibra was that team-mate who on the pitch tried to show me that I could always do more, more and more and more.

“Zlatan is tireless, he absolutely didn’t want me to give up, I had to continue doing what I was already doing, and at every moment he set an example for me.

“This mentality pushed me further, it made me given the strength to continue along a path that I had recently undertaken and which was starting to bear fruit.”

Leao also went on to speak about the two head coaches that he has worked under to this point, starting with Marco Giampaolo who arrived in the summer of 2019 but in the end only lasted a few games before being sacked.

“In my career at Milan I had two coaches, or perhaps only one. There was practically no type of relationship between me and Mister Giampaolo, we didn’t speak to each other, I had only recently arrived in Milan and for a a footballer like me, at nineteen, settling in was the first challenge to face.

“Initially I was looking for a familiar lexicon in the dressing room, so André Silva – the only Portuguese in the team – helped me a bit with the language, but after a month he was sold so I started to bond with other new players like Ismael Bennacer, signed three days after me and who I still call brother today.

“Right from the start I had objectives, but it wasn’t easy, the coach hadn’t understood how to insert me on the pitch and with him I had a cold relationship; formal greetings at training and nothing else.

“The difficulty in communicating added to those of the team on the pitch. We played badly, I played poorly, and after a few games the coach was sacked. Only seven games and everything changed again.”

The former Lille man then also talks about the arrival of Stefano Pioli as the new boss. He replaced Giampaolo and it would be fair to say there was a mixed reaction among the fan base, but he ended up leading Milan to a Scudetto and a Champions League semi-final.

“New coach, new methods: I had to try to find space and a way of communicating with mister Pioli. At the beginning we weren’t in harmony with Pioli, I remember a press conference of his that annoyed me, in which he said things that in my opinion he shouldn’t have said, which he should have discussed first in front of the team.

“It took time before we understood how to relate, in the meantime he had the talent to find the best way for me and the team to play. He put me in a position to make a difference and that’s how we got closer.

“The secret was finding a clear and direct way to talk to each other. It’s normal for there to be discussions in a dressing room, they are everywhere. And how in life, as in families, not talking to each other is often the worst choice you can decide to make.

“By talking you always clarify everything, sometimes it doesn’t go the way you wanted, of course, but better a truth that can hurt you than a lie.”


Tags AC Milan Rafael Leao
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