Saelemaekers believes he ‘became a man’ at Milan and sets ambitious UCL target

By Oliver Fisher -

Alexis Saelemaekers believes that AC Milan can go all the way to the final in the Champions League, and backed Charles De Ketelaere to come good in time.

Saelemaekers is a player that Stefano Pioli continues to put his trust and faith into, as shown by the fact he seems to now be the starting right wing-back over captain Davide Calabria after the formation changed to a three-man defence.

That is just the latest role that he has played since joining from Anderlecht, having already been used as a right-back and a right winger, and even in other attacking roles when the situation dictates.

As mentioned, he seems to have settled nicely into the wing-back role – one which he played back in Belgium – as it allows his work rate and energy to be put to good use.

Saelemaekers spoke during an interview with Christophe Fraken of about a number of different topics, starting with his arrival at the club from Anderlecht.

“I was still a kid when I arrived and I became a man at Milan. I work every day with people who have a lot of experience and skills in their field, this makes you grow faster,” he said (via MilanNews).

How do you know when you have become a man?

“It’s a combination of things. When you play in big competitions like the Champions League, it forces you to grow very quickly. You don’t have the chance to make mistakes. At Anderlecht, I was a son of the club and they passed on some youthful sins to me. Also in my private life many things have changed. This helps me a lot in my daily life.”

Which team does your girlfriend support?

“Milan obviously, otherwise there would be a problem (laughs).”

What happened to the squad in January?

“The World Cup was a factor. We brought back players who were late in preparing and played most of the friendlies with a team far from the standards. And we lost almost every match. This gets into your head and you come back to the league with a negative outlook. But we have to get back up and play every game to the fullest. Nothing is lost this season yet.”

What are Milan’s ambitions for the Champions League?

“We have the ability to go to the final. We play for Milan and we don’t have to limit ourselves. Otherwise there is no point in playing against Tottenham. We are very ambitious and this is normal in a club as demanding as Milan.”

What went through your mind after the mistake that led to Morata’s goal in September 2021?

“I had the most difficult moment after a match. I made a small tactical error that cost us a goal. All the fans supported me. It’s not easy when 200,000 people send you hate messages on social networks.

“Staying mentally strong is not easy in a moment like this. But it shows how much they love the club. And also how much they love me, because they want the best from me. It teaches you a lesson: you don’t make the same mistake again. The fans have a responsibility in this learning process.”

How do you deal with the criticism that comes your way?

“Some people get help, but I have internalised a lot. I tried to show that it didn’t affect me, even if it happened. It affected me, but we must try to forget as soon as possible and manage emotions well.”

Does golf help a lot?

“Yes, it’s true. It’s a sport that calms me down. When you get on the field, you get away from all the pressure. You have to be very focused and sometimes that’s what I miss in football. It adds another string to my bow.”

Why has your compatriot De Ketelaere struggled?

“When you arrive in the team and you have a difficult moment, the fans start criticising. It happened to me too, but Charles will come out stronger. I’m not worried about him. You can see he has all the qualities for the top level He will gain confidence and make his way little by little. I am convinced that we will soon see the great Charles, the one we know in Belgium.”

Origi and Vranckx are also your team-mates…

“Yes, but I have to admit that I arrived at a time when Milan weren’t doing very well. They arrived as reigning champions, in a well-established team. It’s more difficult to fit in. When I arrived in January 2020, the team didn’t it was so good and there was obviously more space.

“But Charles, Divock and Aster will adapt to Italian football, which has its particularities. I try to help them on a daily basis. For example, I helped Charles find his apartment. But my advice the greatest is to learn Italian as soon as possible. Here everything is done in this language.

“Even in the city it is not always easy to find people who speak English. The problem is that in the locker room there is a large group of about ten people who speak French. If this had happened when I arrived, maybe I still wouldn’t speak Italian.”

On goals and assists…

“I know. I have to balance the team and I have many defensive tasks. I do a lot of running and it’s not always easy to have the energy for the last move. This lucidity is a point of work in training, even if I know the coach is happy with my contribution.”

Could you be more selfish?

“I have the mentality of always wanting to help the team. I will always make the necessary runs. I don’t care whether or not it shows up on the outfield. As long as we win and the manager likes it, I’ll keep doing it.”

What kind of a player is Giroud?

“I often watch him in training. It’s impressive to see how he keeps his calm in front of goal. We have different roles on the pitch, but I learn from him. Sometimes I make fun of him by saying that at my age he still played in the lower leagues of French football [Giroud played for Tours in Ligue 2 at the age of 23], but I have immense respect for his career.

“He always believed in himself when many doubted. And here he is, the top scorer in the history of Les Bleus. He is still too often denigrated and this saddens me. I am happy to say that he has become a true friend because he is a nice person, with a lot of humility.

“We even spent part of the holidays together. Our faith also brings us closer and we regularly talk about religion. Olivier is important to me, he helps me on a daily basis.”

On the competition with Messias…

“It’s important for the coach to have two competitive players who can give the team a boost per hour. It’s hard to accept at the beginning, but he explains why you hardly ever play the full 90 minutes. I and Messias we respect each other. He is much more reserved. He doesn’t talk much, even with the rest of the group. But in Milan we are a family and there is no tension or hatred”.

Tags AC Milan Alexis Saelemaekers


    1. And like every other Milan player critisism, some fans are shouting after every small mistake or point loss, is not good for the team. Ppl should support this team with ups and downs because with our limitations we won Serie A, we reached knockout stages in CL and we are in a good position to advance to quater finals. Its nobodys fault that napoli is playing so good, especially not our players. We have to respect and support our team, from coach to management, THEY DESERVE IT!

    2. I like Alexis but i wouldnt call him very good. Compared to what other teams in italy have on rw… Boy needs to start providing goals and assists. Even in this new formation. Cant have just the left side dangerous

      1. Goals and assists arent everything. There are other things important too in a game, like tackling, man beating, speed, workrate, interceptions, key passes and so on. I do admit that we lack crativity on the right side.

        1. Totally agree with what you said.

          For me, Saelemaekers is first of all a team player, who’d run and defend for the team non-stop; He is an intelligent player when you look at the way he runs around on the field. If he could improve his scoring skills, he’ll be a very fine player.

          Regarding the lack of creativity on the right side, I think Pioli should be the first one who needs to take the responsibility. CDK is the perfect solution b/c he has the vision and intelligence to distribution the balls around the field. But Pilot keeps putting CDK in the striker position, which he is not good at all. So the negative trend of him continues till now. CDK would shine brightly under De Zerbi, IMO.

          1. I would like De Zerbi too, but it’s just a dream right now. He’s doing very well at Brighton and if we qualify for the CL Pioli will keep his job.

          2. Why you all keep dreaming to change coach? Is it fair for pioli to be sacked when he alone build this team? I mean Milan was never a huge scudetto winner team anyway, we made our road through CL finals, that was our soul, we won several CL finals and i dont know when we won them both on the same season last time (i can google) but thats not the point, we are still in CL, we are there with the work of pioli, we won last season Scudetto, he raised the bar of a lot of players, many exploded, a few needed more time than others but that is not only coaches fault. He sees them everyday, togheter with maldini, everyday and know how they train and play, i think its also a marketing thing to not fully use diaz, dest and vranckx to get a discount from their native clubs. Look at other clubs how many fail transfers they did (especially in PL) and lost huge money, well we also lost money but we also made a few transfer bargains like maignan, kalulu, kjaer, tomori, thiaw, theo, tonali, leao, giroud, ibrahimovic, bennacer and maybe others too, how much did we payed for them? Maybe 150ml for 11 players, and that almost the amount 1 PL pay for 1 player. Be patient, support the team and see what happenes. FORZZA MILAN!!!!!!

          3. Saying we’re dreaming of De Zerbi doesn’t mean we hate pioli, personally I think he’s done an exceptional job with current team considering the state he found the team in when he started, but he can’t be at the helm forever, it’s called evolution. Don’t take this as a ‘if it ain’t broke don’t fix it’ situation, sooner or later pioli will leave the position for another, I’m just hoping the next is De Zerbi, 3 or 4 years ago Juve was doing extremely well, and they fired allegri regardless, in this world change is inevitable, you have to evolve or perish, we can only hope pioli will continue transforming this team to be the best it can be and the next can take over from there, for now pioli is more than enough

  1. A couple of decent games doesn’t make Saladmaker maker good. We’ll see if he can do it consistently.

    And yes, goals and assists MATTER when you have been a starting RW!
    If you’re not scoring or assisting it means opponents target the left because the right is not a threat. This happened and Leao and Theo started to have some issues.

    Like I say, let’s see if Salad can keep it up in this role or like Diaz only does his usual 2-3 decent games before falling into a hole for 2 months.

  2. My key takeaway was this part:
    “Even in the city it is not always easy to find people who speak English. The problem is that in the locker room there is a large group of about ten people who speak French. If this had happened when I arrived, maybe I still wouldn’t speak Italian”

    I think this is where CDK might be suffering. It reminds me of Yohan Gourcuff who had all the talent and was courted by many clubs around Europe but in an interview back then Maldini mentioned to that he never took his adaptation seriously and never bothered to learn the language so was hard for him to adapt to Serie A. Got shipped out on loan and eventually sold. Hope CDK is not in the same boat. I get the feeling he has it too easy with the number of french players in the dressing room. I sure do hope he’s learning Italian at least

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