AC Milan technical director Paolo Maldini has praised the growth that the current group have shown over the past few months during a long interview.
A little less than a year ago – after the first 19 games of the 2019-20 season – the Rossoneri were 10th in the table, a whopping 22 points behind the top spot and 10 points behind fourth place.
Fast forward to now, and things could not be more different. Milan are 22 games without defeat in the league, having scored in 30 consecutive Serie A games. Pioli’s machine are a team that wins and convinces the doubters, even when key players are injured.
Maldini spoke to La Gazzetta dello Sport about a number of different topics, including ambitions for the future and the work of Pioli so far, with his comments transcribed by MilanNews.
“We are not looking for statistics to improve, but for successes. Honestly, I did not expect such a long unbeaten streak in the league, but I had already seen the signs in January, before the world stopped,” he said.
“The 2020 results say it, which are objective, but our season now unfolds over two years. And we don’t have a target, the minimum is to do better than the last season. We qualified for the Europa League, so the idea is to do more in this sense.”
From that we can infer that the target is a top four finish, but Maldini was probed about whether he believes this team can challenge for the title.
“Milan are dreaming and don’t want to stop doing it. Above all, they will not give up,” he said.
“I always ask the players to be ambitious. You need an almost utopian goal to get to what is possible. There is always ambition and enthusiasm. These are the key words. And then this is a special club.”
On the youth-heavy recruitment model, he added: “Young players should not be judged, there should be patience. If you see the quality, which we think there is, you wait. There is a program that works. There was harmony even in difficult moments.”
Stefano Pioli deserves a lot of credit for the changes he has made to allow this group to succeed, while the impact of a player like Zlatan Ibrahimovic cannot be understated either.
“Pioli? He has a special role. He brings calmness, balance, knowledge of football. He brings sensitivity, but also intensity. It’s what you perceive from the outside, but I assure you that Pioli is amazing. He knows how to be a hammer in his own way. I think it is an opportunity to make the leap, even for him. Everyone is growing with him.
On Ibrahimovic and the other experienced players: “They are important for promoting growth and now we are more confident than four months ago. For the young players, winning without Ibrahimovic, Kjaer and other fundamental men like Bennacer and Rafael Leao are a good sign.”