AC Milan head coach Stefano Pioli took part in an in-depth interview for the club’s media channel as part of a special event with BMW, the new Automotive partner.
Pioli was asked about a number of different topics including his life away from football, his family and also sent a message to CEO Ivan Gazidis in his battle against throat cancer. His words were transcribed by MilanNews, and translated below.
What relationship do you have with this city?
“Milan is a beautiful city, modern, lively, avant-garde. Favourite areas? I really like walking, in the evening I go out for dinner with my wife and we like to walk to the downtown area.”
On the BMW he is driving: “Really beautiful, comfortable, elegant car. Machines are one of the few vices I have, I like powerful machines not because I go too fast but because I like to know that if I feel like I can go there. Two wheels? As a kid I never had a scooter, but for several years, especially in Parma, I like to use the scooter.”
There is a parallel between BMW and Milan, they are two great brands. Driving such a car can be as exciting and challenging as driving a football team?
“Absolutely yes, you are aware that you have something prestigious, important at your disposal. It stimulates you, it motivates you to give your best.”
Has being a coach and always being on the move changed you?
“Absolutely yes, our way of traveling is particular. When we travel in the pre-game we see nothing, we are focused on the game. We have consolidated habits so for example if we go to play in Rome, Naples or Turin I hardly leave the hotel.
“Luckily my wife is a travel lover, she allowed me not to say to travel all over the world, which is still something we plan to do in the future, but to visit many beautiful places. My wife is more for monuments, churches, streets, but I like to travel to see people. Maybe she goes inside the church, I stay outside to look at their habits, what they do, how they dress. I also like to go to little-known places to understand how ordinary people behave.”
Does your wife do everything or do you book?
“There is a rule in our family: I do a job where I have to make choices every day. Other things, especially holidays, she always decides, I never know where she takes me. She surprises me? Sometimes yes. Most of the time she gives me some clues, but she always chooses. It never happened that she took me to a place I didn’t like. In these terms she is very reliable.”
Sea or mountains?
“My favorite vacation would be half and half. I love the sea, but in the end I don’t really like being on the beach cooking in the sun. If I had a month to spare, 15 days at the beach and 15 days in the mountains. The mountain is more relaxing, there are also many things to do.
“I like cycling. I like to walk, I like to eat, play a game of cards. This year with the joy of the fact that we became grandparents we preferred to stay in Versilia close to our daughter with the opportunity to often see our grandson. We stayed in Versilia except for 5 days when we visited a friend in Formentera.”
In your football, do you take anything from basketball?
“I am a lover of high-level sports of any kind. At high levels you can always take something on a motivation level or even on a technical level. A little bit I tried to take him from basketball but they are two very different sports. But maybe on the inactive balls we could take something away.”
After cycling and basketball?
“Tennis. This summer there was the combination of Italy at the European Championships with Berrettini, in my opinion they transmitted the beautiful face of Italy. Beyond the tactical technical aspect in which Mancini certainly did very well, I appreciated how the players looked at each other and how they looked at Mancini, and Berrettini’s gaze so determined but also serene.
“It is a summer that from a sporting point of view has given us positive emotions and attitudes, we needed it. It wasn’t just a football aspect, there was an empathy between them that involved us all. We needed to celebrate together after so many months indoors. We have all suffered from this pandemic.”
Would all coaches wish they could count on this magic?
“We all start with very big ambitions, but we can only achieve them if we ourselves make ourselves available to the group. If we can give up something for ourselves and make it available to the group then we have a great chance of getting what we want and more.
“In every game there is a moment in which you have to suffer and help your partner, and if you are not so generous and you don’t feel like you belong to a group then the target fails. If you walk half a meter less, if you run one less, if you say a word less then you pay for it. Now the line between winning and losing a match is really thin, if you put in a little more you have a chance to win.”
Giving up something that belongs to you to give it to the group is part of the Milan style, right?
“I must say that the Milan style and the sense of belonging that we breathe and experience every day at Milanello is now within us. It is true that it must always be cultivated, stimulated, rekindled, but there is always this strength and team spirit, even seeing the new guys: Giroud, Maignan… They are all guys who have important values and are people of depth.
“Then, of course, you can’t just have nice people and normal players, we have to combine certain moral values with always important technical qualities. It is too early to say where we can go, the important thing is to be ambitious. We have to be, knowing that there will be difficulties, but if you have great ambitions, you can overcome the obstacles. I think this group has a great desire to do well and to honor the jersey we are wearing.”
Am I wrong if I associate your passion and these clear ideas with the figure of your father, Pasquino, who gave you the noble feeling of love for football?
“The best memory, the best feeling is that with my father I always felt safe, he always gave me a strong security. I saw in him a serious and responsible figure. My father had two jobs all his life, his passion for football took us around. My father has always given me the value of being a serious, polite person who tries to do the best to be calm and balanced.
“My father and my mother shared the tasks. Even if I played badly or made some mistakes for my father there was always some justification, but my mother was and is much tougher in the judgments and that’s right.”
Tell us an anecdote about your mother Marialuisa: “I know that my brothers and my nephews when they see the game with my mother can’t manage it, she’s very impulsive, very volcanic. She is very respectful of the moments, I call her. Then when a few hours pass, she gets tender if he understands that it is a particular moment, but then she can’t help but tell you things (laughs).”
How is being a grandparent?
“I’ve always heard it said that becoming a grandparent is a fantastic emotion. Being a grandparent gives you different awareness. Now he is two years old, he starts talking and communicating. He has already touched the ball, but now he is in the toy cars moment.
“My daughter obviously watches all the AC Milan matches, he has learned the name of Kessie and it is wonderful because while we were watching the European matches he would throw himself on the ground and say ‘What a foul Kessie’ (laughs). I have now given him Franck’s complete kit.”
Is it difficult for a coach to be a father?
“No. Among other things, I train boys who are much younger than my children. Especially we who have many foreign children, who come from other countries and other cultures and are here alone, have figures like me and my collaborators, with whom they can talk about their difficulties, their habits, what they need, I believe that it is also useful for them to have less difficulty in this new experience.”
So is being a coach also being a bit of a father?
“In my vision, yes, especially in my players to emphasise behaviours, attitudes… Clearly at 18 you still can’t have everything well defined about how you have to behave, as a professional and as a person. Everything they are thinking of doing I have already done 30 years ago, trying to give them advice on situations they can face I think it can help them grow.
“Our kids are 20 years old, but if you think about it, our environment makes you grow up quickly and therefore they seem more adults. But then when you go to talk to them they really look like 19-20 year olds, with their thoughts and worries. Then they always seem so bold but that’s not always the case. But then working and living this reality like AC Milan and these pressures for a young boy is not so simple.”
I have always known you as a very private person, but that ‘I love you’ given to the cameras after that Atalanta-Milan to celebrate a milestone and to remember your love for Barbara (his wife), certainly represented something important…
“Of course, it was our anniversary date and Barbara and I have been together since we are 16. Barbara I think she was the person who helped me grow and improve, she is a very bright and intelligent person. It is not easy to be the wife of a professional who takes the job home, it is inevitable that it is, and often she brings home the disappointments, the worries, the thoughts. But she has always had the sensitivity, the intelligence to understand when and how to intervene and say certain things.
“Her curiosity has allowed me to travel a lot and traveling a lot also opens your head, ideas about many things. It is true that when we were kids I was already thinking about marriage and children, but she was thinking day by day. Let’s say that between the two it was I who insisted more. But then things worked out.”
Can love help a coach become a stronger man? “Absolutely yes, because if you are right in your life and in love, your internal balance can help you perform better. I am fine in everything I do, I feel I can give everything I have and more. When something is wrong, your balance is affected and you are unable to express all that is your potential.”
What did Stefano Pioli feel in the face of those words from Ivan Gazidis, who recently went public about his battle with cancer?
“I was impressed by his serenity, his strength will also be our strength. Seeing him so determined, serene and convinced that he can face this battle and be able to win it is giving us an emotion that we feel. The whole world of Milan is with Ivan because he is one of us and we are a family, he knows that now we are thinking of him. Come on Ivan!”