AC Milan head coach Stefano Pioli has provided an in-depth reflection on what has been an incredible journey to winning the Scudetto.
After a total of 767 games in charge as a head coach (136 of which are with Milan), Pioli can finally hoist a major honour above his head, and the fans too can celebrate with him after 11 years of suffering. Pioli is a coach who came into the club amid protests and a turbulent situation at board level, but now he seems irreplaceable.
The Scudetto is in many ways the perfect reward for what has been a rewarding and progressive journey over the last couple of seasons, from that brilliant post-lockdown run to dropped points, injury crises and refereeing errors. In the end Milan stand above all and can call themselves the best in the country again.
Pioli gave a long interview to Milan TV to reflect on what has been a remarkable season that culminated in the best possible way, with his comments relayed by MilanNews.
The Scudetto is one trophy, but how many times does it have to be won in a season?
“All the games have meant a lot in our path. Of course, we have defined some of them bigger than others, such as head to head, but then the ones that seemed simpler on paper turned out to be more complicated,” he began.
“I think success is due to the great consistency that the boys have had from start to finish, never losing sight of our way of playing, our qualities and our characteristics and believing in what we do. This is our secret.”
Who did you call immediately after the final whistle in Reggio Emilia?
“I called my mom. It’s not that I didn’t want her at the stadium, but she didn’t feel like coming and I understand her. Then they were all at the stadium and I called my mom, it was right. She knows I won something important. She was happy.
“As a child I dreamed of being a footballer, as a footballer I dreamed of being a coach. I did everything I wanted. I think the best thing for a person is to turn his passion into a job. My parents have always been close to me, with three brothers and my father who did double work. A family like many others with a passion for football.”
Ancelotti, in 2003, did not have that feeling of revenge despite being told in the early years of his career that he had not yet won anything. What was your state of mind?
“Honestly… It’s not that I never paid any attention to what was said outside, but in my opinion it is wrong to consider only the coaches who win trophies as ‘winning’ coaches, but we must consider those who reach the goal for which they were set in their contract. I have done well many times, then to win you need a combination of things, starting with a club and players of a certain level. I had them and I took advantage of the opportunity.”
Who would you like to thank?
“Thanks to the club, to Maldini and Massara who chose me, to the managers who supported me even in delicate moments. Synergy was immediately created between us that allowed us to dialogue and discuss often, allowing us to improve the team.
“And thank you to the players. Without talented players you cannot win such a difficult league. I have put everything into my work. Since I’ve been at Milan I feel something different inside. I have put on the field every day the maximum commitment, the maximum will and the utmost passion. Only in this way can such a continuous journey be made.”
On 8 July 2021, the team was not satisfied with just qualifying for the Champions League…
“Merit goes to the mix in the team group: there are veterans with an incredible mentality, like Ibra, Kjaer and Olivier, who always want to win, even on a daily basis, accompanied by the youth of the other players who wanted to improve.
“We wanted to improve from day one on last year’s result. I asked my players if they would be happy to finish second. We wouldn’t be happy. This was the ambition and motivation that pushed us to improve day by day.”
How did you manage to get Tonali and Leao firing?
“It’s the eye of a coach. At the first training session I saw them, I turned to my collaborators and I said to them: ‘Holy sh**’. Something clicked with them. But it happens with young, talented players and great willingness to imrpove.
“And I found really smart players, not touchy ones. I’m a pain in the ass. They were good at understanding the goal. I found they had changed after the break. They probably needed it to understand many things.”
The song ‘Pioli is on fire’ – have you ever thought that all those who sing it now at the stadium used to sing it from home with you on the bus during the lockdown?
“I am now understanding what our path has been and what the fans may have imagined. It is an incredible emotion to hear it. But the best thing is to have done it when I still hadn’t won anything. Beyond clichés, the fans know how to recognise the quality and seriousness of those who work in their club. And this is the biggest thanks, even more than the headlines of these days. That song fills me with energy and pride.”
In this season, Milan showed many different tactical variations…
“Absolutely yes. For many it was a two and a half year journey between all the various sessions. Our game concepts are very clear. We prepare the games to have advantageous solutions in the two game phases, which then change from game to game also based on the opponent. What does not change are the concepts of the game and the mentality, which I believe has been our best weapon.”
Was your competitiveness spurred on by the 36 points obtained in the second half of last season?
“Yes. When Paolo Maldini speaks you have to listen and understand what this club is and the history of this club. Now we celebrate, but then we have to think about raising the bar and doing better next year.
“We wrote a story in a club that has a glorious past and we want to return to being competitive continuously both in Italy and in Europe. The fact of having such motivated young players and such competitive experts gives me hope.”
Milan will be in the first pot for the Champions League. With what spirit will it be faced?
“Much of the team’s growth has come through this year’s group experience. We understood what the level was and where we want to go. Of course, we found fantastic teams in the group, including Liverpool who are finalists. This motivated us.
“We had two bad performances against Porto, but with that we understood how different the intensity and quality of European football is. The goal is to compete in Europe with very strong sides.
“Clearly the Champions League is a very high level, probably being in the first pot will help us, but it is clear that we must think that we will be very strong and competitive to get through the group.”
Is it good to feel loved?
“Yes. It’s a fantastic thing that gratifies me so much. I’m enjoying and savouring all the emotions because they pass quickly in life. From tomorrow we will think about next season, talking with Maldini and Massara to understand where and how to intervene. But now let’s enjoy them all. together because we did a great thing, all the components. Let’s start the party.”