Tonali discusses De Ketelaere’s struggles, why Bennacer ‘must stay’ and the ‘choice’ Leao faces

By Oliver Fisher -

AC Milan midfielder Sandro Tonali believes that Rafael Leao will make the best decision for his future, and reflected on his new status as a leader within the squad.

Tonali has certainly become one of the key members of Stefano Pioli’s squad which is in many ways a dream come true for the midfielder given that he grew up a fan of Milan and idolised Gennaro Gattuso, who is a Rossoneri icon.

He struggled somewhat in his initial one-year loan from Brescia as some time was needed to adapt to a new club with higher expectations, but Tonali was huge in the Scudetto win last season scoring vital goals and displaying confidence beyond his years.

Tonali spoke to journalists from Sky Italia, DAZN, Mediaset and La Gazzetta dello Sport as part of the access given on the Dubai training retreat, with his words relayed by MilanNews.

On Leao: “Rafa we know that has other qualities compared to me and Isma [Bennacer]. The story is the same, but with different foundations. Rafa will decide what he has to do. He is living the season well and serenely, he doesn’t have to think about many things. We just have to go on and play this season.

“I can’t get inside his head and change his mind. Only he knows which is the best way for him, whether to stay here or decide to take other roads. We know he’s a phenomenon and he has to make the best choice for him, before us.”

On his importance within the Milan squad: “I’m pleased to have become a reference point, but it’s not just me but the team. We’re on a journey together with the coach 3 years ago, he’s our driving force, he gives us balance on and off the field.

“How have I changed? I arrived playing little, now I play. This has changed. And the confidence that the field gives you is given by nothing else. It is useless to talk about what has changed off the field. Playing is the only thing that makes you better.”

On De Ketelaere’s difficult impact at Milan: “I experienced it first hand. And it’s not easy. For me it was easier because for me there was no crowd. There’s less pressure and you can afford to make some mistakes more ball, or trying plays that you don’t make with a full stadium.

“It’s just a mental matter. Time is on his side. You just need to wait, because he has quality, he’s strong, and he shouldn’t be judged for the first part of the season after such a big leap in league [compared to Belgium]. It must be expected.”

On the new players: “They integrated right away as if they had been with us for 2-3-4 seasons. We are very much a team and when things don’t go for them, it doesn’t go for everyone.”

On catching Napoli in the league: “The defeat against Napoli? There are some regrets. But there are still many games. In the end we will draw the sums. But we are strong enough to be able to win them all. Last year’s season he is an example of this.

“We all rowed on the same side and we brought home the Scudetto. A player cannot win a game alone. We are following a path and it must be continued. A path that began with Pioli, who is our driving force , which gives us balance and everything must be done together.”

On who has the strongest midfield in Italy: “Inter have a top-level midfield. Just like Juve and us. We’re not even halfway through the season, we’re Milan, there are so many points up for grabs, we’re the Italian champions, I don’t see why we shouldn’t believe in a comeback.”

On Bennacer’s importance: “He’s fundamental for Milan. There’s no other word to describe him. Fundamental. He’s everywhere, he runs for everyone. He raises the technical level. It’s difficult to play without Isma right now. It’s easier when you have someone like him at your side. I repeat, he is fundamental.

“He must stay, he knows better than me what Milan is. He knows the path they have followed, and he knows what we can do together. So he knows very well what to do. And I hope with everyone the good of the world that he remains. He knows very well what it’s like to play here.”

On feeling like the strongest Italian midfielder: “No, and in any case I would never say yes. There are strong players like Barella and Jorginho, they are ahead and have more experience.

“I’m happy with what has happened here at Milan so far, with the Scudetto, with playing for this shirt, with my first 100 appearances. And you need to keep wanting to win with the desire to stay as long as possible.”

On potentially staying at Milan for life: “The value of the team depends on many aspects, many details. It is a question that must be asked season by season. This year I would answer yes. But it is impossible to predict 15-20 years of career.”

On his letter to Santa: “I wrote it again this year, so as soon as I get back I’ll have a surprise. But maybe my team-mates will bring me the surprise at the end of the year. I would write many things. But the most important is to win. We know what it’s like to win and not win. There’s a huge difference. If we could all write a letter together in the dressing room, we’d do it right away.”

Tags AC Milan Sandro Tonali
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