AC Milan technical director Paolo Maldini has given a fascinating interview regarding his own future and that of the club after the Scudetto win.
There is no doubting that Maldini’s return to the club was one of the catalysts of the recent resurgence, as the former Milan captain has put all of his knowledge and experience of the game to full use, making several very smart signings alongside sporting director Ricky Massara.
He gave an interview to La Gazzetta dello Sport to discuss his emotions after seeing the Rossoneri hoist the Scudetto for the 19th time, with his comments relayed by SempreMilan.it, but he first of all spoke about the fact his contract expires next month.
“Our deals are about to expire and we have not renewed. I must say that for our path and for what has happened in the past even during the period of crisis with Rangnick, I find it disrespectful that to date the CEO and Elliott have not even sat down to talk to us,” he said.
“I’m just saying to talk. Because they might also tell us ‘your work was not good enough to continue’. Or it may be that I say ‘I don’t like your strategy’. As I said at the time, I like to be a sort of guarantee for the AC Milan fans. I’m not the right person to do a project that doesn’t have a winning idea. I could never do that. The reality is that the owners have never sat down at the table and this is not good.”
Maldini wanted to dedicate the recent league title win to his parents who are sadly no longer with him, but will be watching on from above with pride.
“To Mom and Dad, I hope they can be proud of me up there. Dad might not have said anything to me, just a pat on the back or a hug. He was a man of few words especially with me. Over time he has softened a lot and we spoke to each other more.
“On the other hand, my two children are also of few words. As I was when I played: talking was a stretch, I tried to do it as little as possible. In Reggio Emilia during the award ceremony at a certain point I heard the speaker announcing the number 25, Florenzi. Then I realised and I said to myself: ‘now it’s Daniel, how nice’.
“I saw him come towards me with his eyes downcast. He wasn’t looking straight at me. I knew, he always does that. We gave ourselves a slightly slippery high-five. The next day I saw him again here in the living room. I told him: ‘Oh Dani, congratulations’. We hugged. And it ended there.
“A problem in the dressing room? No, because he is a very good boy who knows how to stand in his place. He is appreciated for who he is. And then the field speaks for itself. If you are not suitable for that type of level your teammates recognise it immediately. This does not happen for Daniel. Then it is clear that he must grow but his autonomy of thought and of his life is clear within the group.”
It is Maldini’s first triumph as a director at the club, and he considers it to be an achievement right up there with some of the best he managed as a player.
“It is the first triumph of a new life. This time I didn’t play with speed and technique but with my mind and my values. I consider it beautiful. One thing unites this to the other titles I won: the passion for Milan and football.
“I would say it is a masterpiece. It is the victory of ideas, will and team spirit. We stayed at the top for two years and managed to do something super against forecasts. And it is not trivial that in the last 20 years Milan had won only two league titles. That’s why it gives us so much pride.
“It is similar to the title won with Zaccheroni in 1999. But it came with less investment and more ideas. Did Inter lose the Scudetto? They are opinions. I say we scored 86 points. And only once in the history of three-points per win were Milan able to get more.
“And I would like to add that the enthusiasm we registered in the fans was also due to the game that the team showed and the courage we showed. Even in the market choices. This winter we had Kjaer out with an injury and Tomori injured his meniscus. There was no budget.
“We could have loaned a player to plug the hole. Instead we trusted our young people. Because we know they can guarantee us a lot.
“From 2019 to today we have signed 21 players. A mix of experienced guys and many young people. Massara and I told each of them the story of a project that was then realised. So we have been credible and this is an important part of our success.
“Of course they were different stories. In Zlatan, for example, we asked him to give us what he could bring to the group right now. For a young man like Kalulu the speech was: ‘The first six months you watch and learns. You are in the homeland of defence, memorise everything’.
“Sooner or later the opportunity arrives. The personal relationship is one I have established with the players. Most of them are young people who needed guidance. Many consider me as a second father.”
The director was also asked about Milan’s ability to construct a winning team despite not necessarily spending huge money on individual players like rivals have done.
“The 21 players that under my direct management we have signed outright have resulted in a net expenditure of 75 million between signings and sales. When I decided to stay after Leonardo’s farewell, I had a higher budget in mind.
“Then the idea of doing things, but of doing them not necessarily but because you are convinced must prevail over that of spending what you have. If I can save the club money I will. And this has meant that my vision has completely changed.
“I understood that young players must be given opportunities. But it is necessary to make them feel trust especially in difficult moments. Something that never happened to me as a boy.”
One of the more high profile signings was Mike Maignan, who arrived last summer to replace Gianluigi Donnarumma and if anything he has been an upgrade.
“On Maignan we relied on the opinion of Dida, Ragno and Betti, our goalkeeper trainers. So talking with him we understood what he had in mind, his personality, the desire to win like no other. Did I speak to Donnarumma? No, but during the year we spoke and then saw each other at Ibra’s 40th birthday party. What if he has repented? I don’t know, I still hope he’s happy. He has given a lot to Milan.”
Sandro Tonali arrived at the club on an initial loan deal that was turned into a permanent one last summer after some negotiating with Brescia, and this season he exploded.
“They said he could be the new Pirlo but he felt like Gattuso. I would say that he has the characteristics of both. The first year he lived in a very difficult situation. He came from an injury and suffered the pressure of being him in his favorite club. We understood this by keeping it with us. The results have been seen,” Maldini said.
During the 2019-20 season it looked as though Pioli would see out the campaign and then be replaced by Ralf Rangnick, but he convinced everyone that he deserved the job as more than just an intermediary and this Scudetto is the product of his work.
“Already being normal in 2022 is something special. I knew Stefano because I played with him in the Under 21 and I always had respect for the man and the coach. From the outside I’ve always liked him.
“What surprised me is the intensity of the transmission of his ideas and the energy he puts into Milanello. I told him several times: ‘You can change all the game systems you want but don’t lose this energy which is vital for us’. And look, he’s also tough in the things he says. I really like this thing.
“With Massara we often sit with him to try to improve something. We do this especially when things are going well because we are more open to dialogue. The right man to open a cycle? He is certainly an important component.”
This summer mercato is a big one given the next step for the club is not only to defend the title but also to go further in the Champions League, and Maldini also spoke about the ambition that the club must have.
“Today Milan with a high-level strategic vision can go on to compete next year with the biggest clubs. If, on the other hand, we chose a vision of maintenance, without investments, without an idea from Milan we would remain in limbo among the best six or seven teams in Italy to try to win back the Scudetto and qualify for the Champions League,” he said.
“This is why it is time for the owners, Elliott or the one that might arrive, to close the three-year period and understand what strategy they want for the future. With two or three important signings and the consolidation of the players we have, we can compete for something bigger in the Champions League.”
On the new ownership, he added: “I had no contact with them. We were told this after it appeared in the press. But I had perceived something living inside the headquarters. But it wasn’t a problem.
“In the end, when you manage to create a special team group like ours these indiscretions do not disturb the environment. At Milanello we went ahead knowing in any case that we had a strong club behind us, always punctual in payments.
“Of course, there was curiosity. Some player with whom we were talking about renewals told us: ‘Let’s wait because maybe there will be more money’. The signings for the future? We have been moving for months but at the moment we do not have the financial resources to think about this qualitative leap. Also because we are in a phase of transition. We will see…”
Finally, Maldini closed the interview by talking about two leaders of the forward group in Rafael Leao and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, one of whom is destined for the very top while the other has been there for two decades.
“Is Leao unsellable? Of course, he is a diamond that is still in the rough, who has had great improvements from one year to the next. We took him from Lille by paying 24 million and we immediately put a clause of 150 million on him because Boban, Massara and I believed in him.
“He potentially has always been a champion. He had to follow a path which, moreover, is not yet finished. He is extremely intelligent and needed a little help. I talked to him a lot. It is clear that if in the future Milan will not be at Leao level or Leao will not be at Milan level, things will change. But in this moment the growth is exponential for the club and for him.
“Ibra? I spoke to him on Monday and we will meet in about a fortnight. I see no problems in finding an agreement. Playing so little is certainly not at ease with him. We will see what happens in the next two weeks. Everything will be done for the good of him and Milan. From what I understand his intention is to move forward.”