AC Milan head coach Stefano Pioli has given his overall rating for the season, while he also discussed the renewal of Rafael Leao and some transfer rumours.
Milan go into their final game of the season with their main objective in the bag, after the 1-0 win against Juventus at the Allianz Stadium on Sunday night secured qualification for the next edition of the Champions League.
The opponents Verona meanwhile are fighting for their Serie A lives. The Gialloblue are currently inside the bottom three and they need to better the result of Spezia – who are away against Roma – if they are to jump above them and preserve their status in the top flight.
Pioli spoke to the reporters who gathered at Milanello for his pre-match press conference on the eve of the game against Verona, with his comments relayed by MilanNews.
On Leao’s renewal, do you think that behind the player’s desireto stay is the journey you and he have had together?
“I think first of all we need to compliment the managers, Rafa’s renewal was a very heartfelt thing within the group. I’ve always been very confident, I knew the will of the club and the boy.
“Today, joking with Rafa, I told him that it’s been to my office 178 times this year, ours is a good relationship, but with the whole team. Only with a strong team could a season recover after a period of crisis like that of January.”
Why is it important to beat Verona tomorrow?
“Beating Verona because we are Milan and we play at home in front of 70,000 fans, we have a duty to give our best and because we would be the team that has scored the most points at home after Napoli.
“We set out to win something, but we didn’t we succeeded. We had a great Champions League, a sufficient league season, we could have aimed for second place, we left something on the road, Napoli did something extraordinary so we won’t win it again. We will have to be good at learning from this complicated season, we will learn and grow.”
Will tomorrow be a farewell for Zlatan Ibrahimovic?
“First of all, I have to say that Zlatan was unable to be available for tomorrow, we tried and he tried: he’s not in a position to take the field. Zlatan and I have talked these days, these are things that must remain between us. He will decide what the future will be and the club will decide it.”
“He will decide with all honesty, with great responsibility what his future will be. We talked but it is right that certain things remain between us.”
What was the key moment in Leao’s growth?
“I think he has to give the answer. It’s been a journey, he’s always shown availability and has incredible potential: like all young guys he needed to make mistakes and gain experience. I absolutely don’t think his journey is over, quite the contrary.”
Will there be a lot of activity in the transfer window? What will happen with Diaz?
“Absolutely, a coach shouldn’t talk about the transfer market. I’ll meet the management shortly. We’ve had a very busy period, I’m here every day and so we’ve already discussed each other: in the next few days there will be more in-depth meetings on this situation.
“We will try to build an ever stronger Milan. Diaz has grown a lot, a strong player who has grown together. I don’t know Brahim’s personal situation. Except for Zlatan and a few others, I haven’t talked about the future.”
What don’t you want to see in your Milan next year?
“I think Paolo was generous saying that with qualification in the Champions League we deserved an 8, I wasn’t a genius at school and was very happy when I got home with a 7, because in my opinion you have to average between 8 of the Champions League and 6 in the league. Definitely a positive thing.
“If you want to be competitive in order to win you have to be more consistent and you have to win the matches that you can win on the field: it is clear that we missed some opportunities.”
What do you mean by Milan-worthy players?
“Strong and above all intelligent players. I am not interested in a right or left-handed, tall or small, I am interested in whether they are intelligent.
“It has nothing to do with whether they are 18, 25 or 30 years old, but they must be able to play at certain levels. We are no longer a Milan that are happy to finish sixth but we want to be competitive in Italy and in Europe.”
What has happened with Sergino Dest?
“He’s a player with important characteristics, he had difficulty fitting into our system of play and therefore he slipped a little further back in my choices. He won’t be there tomorrow, he’s not in the best condition.”
What do you think of the season?
“Excellent Champions League, we could have done something more in the league.”
What do you feel like promising the fans for next year?
“Right now I just feel like thanking them, they have been exceptional. This year, especially in difficult moments, they have always supported us. Tomorrow we will thank them, possibly with a victory, with great affection and happiness because we have had a complicated but positive season.”
Have you thought about adding a new figure to your staff?
“There are so many of us that it becomes difficult. What we have done, we are already doing, is that we will fully evaluate what we have proposed to make changes next season in the situations that have seen us in difficulty this year.”
Do you like Japan? Are you going to watch any games tonight?
“I know that City-United is at 4pm, tonight is the German cup final, but tonight I will watch Parma-Cagliari because I’m a Parma fan. I know the English and German teams very well. Kamada is not a Milan player at the moment, I can’t comment. I know he’s an intelligent player, I know him well.”
Do you need a Bennacer deputy in midfield?
“It’s clear that Isma’s injury will see him out for a long time, I don’t know when we’ll be able to see it and it complicates the situation, in the sense that we’ll evaluate where and how to intervene in that department.
“I’m not talking about the transfer market, I’m not the one doing the transfers, there are very capable directors, I have a lot of faith in them.”
What does the future of Charles De Ketelaere hold?
“Charles came to my office this week to let me know that he’s going to play the U21 European Championship with Belgium. I think it’s the right choice for him. All the assessments we’ll make for the team of the year I think we will do the next one in the next few days, Charles’ situation will also come about.”
Are you satisfied with the performance on set pieces?
“No, we could have done better. We scored few goals, we absolutely have to find something more effective.”
How are the group?
“On one thing I never had any doubts, that my players believed in what we were doing and that everyone gave every single drop of sweat. Only truly cohesive and strong groups could overcome such a delicate and critical moment. We overcame it thanks to unity, the support of the club and the support of the fans.”
What are your thoughts on how the defensive department have performed?
“If you remove that period of difficulty, there are positive numbers. That month and a half there accentuated our difficulties: it’s always a question of expectations and objectives.
“Now we have to fight to win, and to fight to win on both sides fronts you need to be a strong team. There are teams that have invested much more than us, like Liverpool, like PSG, like Bayern…
“It’s difficult, few manage to reach those levels there. This year has gone well in the Champions League. less well in the league. Whoever does this job can afford few mistakes, you have to try to make mistakes a little less.”
Tomorrow will be a decisive match for Verona…
“We won’t be the ones to decide if Verona relegate, they’ve had a whole season… It’s not like they can wait for the last day, they’ve had 37 games to decide their fate, tomorrow we’ll see whether we will be better than them or not.”
What analysis do you have of your season?
“I haven’t made one single mistake, I’ve certainly made more. I’m already very, perhaps too much, self-critical with myself… We’ll go and see what penalised us. Our strength is to keep believing in our players.
“It’s easy when you always win, less easy when there are bad crashes. We never stopped believing in ourselves and this paid off at the end of the season with a season that was tiring but positive.”
Are Milan more predictable this year?
“No, concepts and principles are much more important than positions. Sometimes things have worked out well, especially against the big teams…”
Was the flaw this year a less ferocious and systematic high pressing?
“Yes, in the sense that things done halfway lead nowhere. If you want to be play high you have to be aggressive and strong, sometimes we were high but without being aggressive and strong and this gave more space to the opponents.
“But I don’t think that for you must always be aggressive to win: we spent a round of the Champions League with Napoli not being aggressive. You can play different matches with various situations.”
What’s the question we didn’t ask you?
“It’s the 60th conference. I’ve always found great respect for you in my work, I’ve tried to do the same. These are normal questions for those who do our job, no problem… It’s the end of the season, thank you all, it went well, see you tomorrow.”