Stefano Pioli was very open as he spoke to the media last night, following the conclusion of the training retreat in Dubai. Among other things, he talked about the Scudetto, the mercato and Rafael Leao’s contract situation.
Milan are currently eight points behind Napoli in the league standings and thus need a big push in the second half of the season. A task that won’t be easy, but the Rossoneri have worked hard in the last few weeks to regain fitness.
Speaking to Gazzetta Dello Sport, Pioli shared his thoughts on several topics, including the upcoming January transfer window. He was also asked about the future of Rafael Leao, who is currently in contract renewal talks.
On the Scudetto…
“We believe in it. We know that the level has been upped and that our competitors are very strong: if Napoli maintain this incredible pace until the end, they will exceed 100 points and we will have no choice but to congratulate them. But Milan too have the quality and determination to win all matches, in all competitions. We are racing on four fronts, the goal is to win a trophy.”
Champions League too?
“The Champions League has always been Milan’s home, it’s impossible not to feel its charm here. And being the coach of this club, it’s normal to have the ambition to return to being among the protagonists in Europe. We can think of taking another step only if all together we raise the level of performance, quality, and attention. In this way, we will be able to overcome even Tottenham.”
Step by step, the formula is clear. In this phase, is the team stronger than last season?
“We are stronger because so many individuals have grown. As a result, the collective level increases. And then we are more aware, we know what we have to do to win. We are more certain in difficulties: today we know how to face them.”
Will you be stronger after the January transfer market?
“I know that these questions will be asked more, but our signings will be the players who are injured today and who we will recover. I remain absolutely convinced of the quality of our group. And I repeat, as a whole, we have the potential to win every single match.”
By the way, what time frame do you give for Maignan’s return?
“It still takes a while. Ready for Salernitana? I don’t think so.”
And for Ibra?
“We still have to wait. Zlatan has a superior intelligence, returning to Milan he immersed himself in a reality he had never experienced before. Ibra will never have a full belly, victory is the obsession of all the greats and he is one of them. That’s how he wakes up in the morning: he goes into situations at 100% and doesn’t stop until he has achieved his goal. We hope to have him back with us soon.”
In the meantime, however, you will have Leao back. Do you think he will be with you for much longer?
“In the most absolute way, I advise him to stay. We have done a lot together but none of us has reached our maximum potential yet. Rafa has had incredible development, exponential and continuous growth but there are aspects in which he can work with even more quality and intensity. Doing it with us, in a context that by now he knows very well, will make it easier. And then I also feel like he’s really happy here. He was here on vacation and wanted to say hello: it’s another sign of how united these guys are.”
All that is missing is for De Ketelaere to conquer his position…
“When you train such young players, the important thing is the base. I take a step back: there was no doubt that Tonali or Leao had the potential to become great players. The most difficult thing is to predict when that something will click in their head which leads to them raising their level. No one has any doubts about Charles’ qualities but judgments are made too hastily.
“In comparison with Tonali, Sandro is an Italian boy, his childhood home is 50 kilometres from Milan and he played a season without fans, therefore with less pressure. Still, it took him a year to make the leap and metabolize the impact. De Ketelaere has been here for four months, he comes from a different league and has never experienced such attention in his life.”
Will we be able to see him as a striker? Waiting for Ibra and Giroud…
“Yes, it’s possible even in the next few matches, thinking about the types of opponents we’ll meet. We’ll find many defences lined up in fives, not giving references could be the solution and he has these qualities. In general, he has a whole group at his disposal to help him understand situations and the environment.
“Now it will be up to me to know when to push or when to preserve him. He will explode, I’m sure: the experience at the World Cup did him well even if he played little, just as being with his family did him good: he came back a lot more serene.”
Remaining on Giroud: will Milan find a way to overcome the disappointment in the World Cup?
“I was rooting for him and Theo. I spoke to them the night after the final: I said they must be proud of the path they’ve made. Olivier proved to be the usual champion he is: on the pitch and in human depth. And with Theo, we saw what Paolo and I have been saying for a while: that he is becoming the strongest left-back in the world. They will overcome the disappointment by returning to work with us with even more determination towards new goals.”
Milan’s last friendly ahead of the resumption will be played on December 30th, with the Rossoneri facing Dutch side PSV Eindhoven away from home. Then, as we know, the Salernitana clash is scheduled for January 4th.