Sky commentator Sandro Piccinini believes that AC Milan can achieve great things this season, led by the eternal Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
If you were a gambling man, you might take a punt on Milan as an outside bet for the Scudetto at the moment given their fantastic start to the season domestically, though their 24-game unbeaten run in all competitions was ended by Lille on Thursday night.
MilanNews spoke to Piccinini about Milan’s start to the season, beginning with a reflection on the decision to keep Stefano Pioli as head coach.
“It was fundamental because let’s not forget that he had already been replaced, in fact, by a new technical staff. It was news that went around in all the newspapers and he probably had been informed too, so he worked in a very difficult situation,” he said.
“He managed to compact the team and managed to motivate the players. Generally, when players know that a coach has no future in a team, they let themselves go a bit, instead he was good at compacting them and motivating them all, to make even those who didn’t play regularly feel important.
“The company recognised these merits and kept him. Beyond the tactical moves, beyond the excellent relationship with the club given by the splendid person he is, the great merit was that of being credible in the eyes of the players and fans.”
How far can Milan go both in light of the results obtained but also considering the young age of the Rossoneri group?
“In my opinion, what Maldini indicated at the beginning of the season: a position in the Champions League places. That’s an achievable goal for Milan. This exciting start, clearly, has begun to talk about the title. It seems exaggerated to me in this sense.
“The Champions League goal is credible and this must remain. To deceive the fans or to consider third place as a disappointment seems wrong to me. For how the team was built, the goal of qualifying for this great competitions is important.”
How do you judge Paolo Maldini’s time as a director so far?
“Directors must always be evaluated in relation to the ownership they have behind them and he has worked in a difficult situation, with a foreign ownership and with the disagreement between Boban and the property. Today the results such as the quality of the team, the classification, the compactness of the environment and the general mood, prove him right.
“He came out of a complicated situation in the best possible way, as a champion he is and this shows that he is on his way. At the beginning, of course, he forgets that being a manager is a very different profession than that of a football player and therefore he could have had difficulties, he had them but he overcame them very quickly and therefore we must acknowledge that he has the makings of a great manager.”
A choice of Maldini (together with Boban) was that of Ibrahimovic’s return. Did you expect such an important impact from the Swede?
“Honestly, no and I think the club wasn’t expecting it either. I think it was born as an idea to galvanise the environment and to bring home a high quality player but thinking of a card to be played in certain situations.
“I don’t think there was the conviction that he could become a starter in all matches and with this continuity of performance. He is amazing everyone. This is beyond any prediction. Betting on him, however, is another title of merit.
“When he arrived some turned up their noses, especially because it was a team with a passion for the young project and a profile like Ibrahimovic clashed with the line maintained. Milan has many young players but it is right that they are supported by expert champions like him.”
Do you see him as different in character than 10 years ago? I noticed that in some situations he is more patient and acts almost like a teacher…
“Yes, sure, I noticed it too. It is clear that with age we grow and mature, we become wiser. He knows he is an example but all this must be evaluated when things are less positive. Already on Thursday in the Europa League when he was replaced after a bad match, he showed some nervousness.
“It is clear that he will have to deal with the negative moments that will come but up to now his behaviour has been irreproachable and has been the beacon of Milan. In difficult moments, his role will be even more important.”
Can Donnarumma become, if not already, one of the greatest goalkeepers in the history of Italian football?
“He can become that. To become one you need the confirmation of time: you can be great for 2-3 years or for 15. It will depend on him because he has all the gifts, the talent has given him mother nature.
“He has professionalism because he trains with great intensity and with the desire to improve. He proved he had his head on his shoulders when he didn’t chase huge contracts but preferred to grow at home.
“Now there is the turning point of the possible renewal which will also be important for his growth. I hope everything goes well because in my opinion Milan is the ideal environment for him.
“He still needs to grow up in a healthy and familiar environment. I think his attorney has understood this and is looking for an agreement with the company for the good of all.”