Malick Thiaw is very much enjoying his time at AC Milan and he has admitted that sometimes he has to remind himself that it is not a dream.
The German international arrived at Milan ahead of the summer, joining from Schalke 04 in a deal worth around €7m. Up until earlier in the year, however, he didn’t get much playing time and never got the chance to shine.
When his chance came, he took it with both hands. His appearance off the bench in the derby set things off, but he was the MOTM against Tottenham in the Champions League round of 16 and is now a starter alongside Fikayo Tomori.
Thiaw spoke in an interview with SportBild about how he has settled in to life as a Milan player, also revealing some information about life away from the pitch and who he idolised growing up.
“Sometimes I have to pinch myself to realise how quickly it went by. I feel like I’m in a dream. In sporting terms, the change has been very big,” he began.
“From Düsseldorf, where I lived before, to Milan, the change wasn’t too hard: we went from a big city to another… but my life has changed radically! I left my parents and my siblings for the first time, I live here with my wife for the first time.
“In the beginning everything was new and difficult, mainly because of the language barrier. But the club has experts in every area of life who help. In the meantime, I know my team-mates well, we do things in our free time. I feel good, the city is a dream, the people are very kind.”
What impact does religion have in your life?
“I am a Muslim, I grew up a believer and came into contact with religion at an early age. I pray five times a day, I observe Ramadan. My religion gives me extreme strength.”
How have you improved since moving to Italy?
“I’ve become more mature, I take on more responsibility. I’m more honest with myself and also more self-critical. Knowing such a big club how AC Milan was incredible I only knew the club from PlayStation: as a child I played Pro Evolution Soccer with AC Milan and Ronaldinho.
“When I went to my medical for the first time and saw the AC Milan logo shirt at the medical, I couldn’t believe it. I was incredibly proud and happy at the time. I immediately took a selfie.”
Which Milan legend do you remember most?
“I’ve always liked Kevin-Prince Boateng ‘s style and way of playing . In general, I have to say that it took me a few days or weeks to understand that I was really playing for Milan.”
Zlatan Ibrahimovic deserves a special mention…
“I was wondering how he was almost every day. Zlatan was the second person who spoke to me at Milan. The team had a match, I was in the weight room, on my bike. Zlatan approached me. I’m tall, but he towered over me in height and width.
“It was a crucial moment. I wasn’t afraid of Ibra, but I had respect. I was happy to share the dressing room with one of the greatest personalities in world football in recent decades. He said ‘welcome’ to me.”
What was it like to get to the semi-finals of the Champions League?
“I wasn’t picked for the team until the knockout stage. And that’s where it all started for me, in the match against Tottenham and Harry kane.
“When I first heard the anthem of the Champions League standing on the San Siro pitch, goosebumps came up all over my body and I thought: wow! I am extremely grateful to be able to experience all of this.
“The home game was incredible. In the starting eleven, in the Champions League, against Kane. The match went very well for me. After that I understood what the Champions League really is.
“Kane? We had him and the team under control, he didn’t create any danger or score. Personally, Kane is very calm as an opponent, there hasn’t been any exchange of jokes.”
Italy has certainly seen some fantastic defenders…
“At Schalke I learned a lot from Norbert Elgert at the Knappenschmiede. Then I tried to learn on my own, for example by studying the other players. I thought I was very intelligent and knew many things.
“Then I arrived in Italy and I realised very quickly that I still have a lot to improve. The Italians are very strict, very meticulous. It doesn’t matter if you’ve played 15 good games: they always find something you can improve.
“At Milan we don’t play in purely Italian way. However, our team loves to defend. The fans celebrate defensive actions like goals. Therefore, the defence is trained almost obsessively. Every detail is discussed with the coaches, for example that I need to be closer to the opponent.”
Who is your role model?
“Not really, because I only became a central defender at 17, 18. Before that I was a defensive midfielder. Yaya Touré has always fascinated me. He was strong, muscular, with a good shot, and yet everything seemed very easy.”
Germany head coach Hansi Flick is a great fan of yours, and gave you your senior international debut in Poland…
“It was incredible when the anthem played and I took to the pitch. I was a little nervous, but above all happy. It was the biggest moment of my career so far. The match went well for me, despite the loss. The national team manager praised me for my performance. Finally, he called me to wish me a happy birthday.”
You have a friend like Antonio Rudiger in the squad with you…
“Toni is like an older brother to me. He immediately accepted me well, immediately became a friend and is simply an extremely honest and authentic character.
“He gave me a lot of advice. Toni also went abroad, first in Italy. During the trip to the United States with Milan, we met Toni and Real. We exchanged shirts, I will hang Toni’s shirt at home.
“The European Championship in my country is my greatest goal. As a footballer, it is natural that you want to play as much as possible: of course this is my dream in the national team. But for me, every call-up is something very special. That is why I have to continue to work hard every day at Milan.”