Former AC Milan manager Arrigo Sacchi has heaped praise upon Stefano Pioli for the work that he has done in transforming the Rossoneri into title challengers.
Milan are heading into the last two games of the season knowing they need a maximum of four points to secure a first league title since 2010-11, but with games against Atalanta and Sassuolo still to come – teams the Rossoneri have struggled against – nobody is taking anything for granted at the moment.
Whether the team go on to win the league title or not it has certainly been a memorable season full of incredible moments, but given the finish line is so close it would be a real shame not to win number 19.
Sacchi spoke during a column for La Gazzetta dello Sport and discussed the journey that Milan have been on under Pioli, which could yet culminate in the best possible way.
“I don’t know how the Scudetto sprint will end because I’m not a fortune teller. But I know that today will be a special day for Stefano Pioli. He could become Italian champion with Milan, and if he succeeded he would have completed an authentic masterpiece,” he said.
“The Rossoneri weren’t the favourites at the start of the season, yet with the strength of the collective they reached the top, proving that ideas are more important than money. Pioli has been in the world of football for many years, first as a player and then as a coach. I have admired the continuous improvements.
“Milan carried out the classic final training at Milanello on the eve of the match of the San Siro match against Atalanta: many rushed to support the team that tomorrow could take another step, perhaps the decisive one, towards the Scudetto.
“He is a serious, prepared, modest person. And his modesty leads him to broaden his knowledge and take constant steps forward. If I say that Milan have an obvious and recognisable style of play, it means that much of the credit goes to him because he had the skill to convey his ideas to the whole group.
“Not at all simple, because we live in a country where style, at all levels, and I am thinking of politics, industry, culture, is a rare commodity. Well, Pioli’s team has a style instead and so the course has finally turned around.
“From time to time, observing the Rossoneri’s matches, I noticed that he still takes a bit of tacticism, but in general it must be admitted that Stefano has embarked on the path of renewal. He aims to have a strategy, that is, the weapon that allows you to go far.
“His Milan is very European in the way they play and stay on the pitch: they don’t always manage to be short and compact, this is true, but they try and it is already a great merit. Going to see his path to Milan it can be seen that Pioli has had a constant improvement.
“Remember when he looked like he was destined to be replaced by Rangnick? He did not say a word, he bowed his head, he began to work with greater tenacity and in the end he earned his confirmation.
“In this way he also sent a message to his players: dedication to his profession and respect for values make it possible to achieve great goals. It was fundamental for him to find the understanding and synergy with the club. You know how I think: first comes the club, then the team, then the individual.
“Pioli immediately got in tune with the environment and with the managers, he embraced their strategy, both sporting and economic: focusing on young people and trying to settle the budget.
“Of course, young people give you enthusiasm, exuberance, but they don’t have the experience necessary to face delicate situations. However, despite the lack of experience and the technical rate probably lower than that of other clubs, Milan amazed. With passion, with humility, with the spirit of sacrifice.
“I really like Pioli’s refinement, his education. He has shown that he knows how to manage the group very well, both in the positive and in the negative moments. He reminds me a lot of Carletto Ancelotti, and it is no coincidence that they are both from Emilia.
“For the players he is the coach, who must be respected in his role, but he is also ready to be the friend, the partner. It is a gift that not all coaches have: he forged the team in his image and likeness and entered into symbiosis with it.
“This season, whatever the final result, whether he wins the Scudetto or not, he has done his utmost. And when a person does his best, one can only say ‘good’. Then, since he is an intelligent and curious man, I am sure that he will work to make further improvements and to take Milan higher and higher.”