Sandro Tonali spoke at length to La Gazzetta dello Sport, saying the upcoming season will be better for him than the previous one.
Tonali became a full-time Milan player this month, joining from Brescia permanently after one year on loan.
Sandro sat down with Marco Fallisi of La Gazzetta dello Sport for an interview ahead of the upcoming season:
You begin your second season at Milan. What has changed?
“Quite simply, I’ve grown a year. On and off the pitch, a fundamental aspect. We start again with the advantage of knowing each other, us players and the coach. What hasn’t changed are the objectives: we’re always aiming high.”
How do you rate last season? Could you have done better?
“Definitely. It wasn’t my best year, also because it was particular, complicated: COVID stopped me almost immediately, it took me a while to get going. This year will be a different story, although I know I have to improve: there are no arrival points, you always grow.”
How did you live through the criticism?
“When I’m not playing or training, I read or watch a film. It’s not easy to remain impervious, but I try, with both criticism and praise. There will always be people who don’t like me, and that’s okay, you can’t please everyone.”
It’s not every day that you have to cut your salary, you did it. Why?
“Because the desire to stay at Milan came first of all. The buy-out terms from Brescia had expired and we were starting from scratch: it was important for me to take a step towards Milan. There were other clubs, even with higher salaries to offer, but I’m happy here.”
Do you think your gesture could be a signal for a more economically sustainable football?
“Every player thinks differently. There are those who think about their career and ambition, others about money. I believe that being well in a team is essential. At Milan I can achieve all my goals, I can have everything in the club where I’m happy.”
What relationship do you have with Pioli?
“Very nice, he’s like a father. We’re young and he knows what kind of strings to pull, he knows us inside out. We work a lot as a team, we analyze the games we’ve played and prepare for the next ones: we are really united.”
Speaking of fathers, you’ve also described Ibrahimović and Kjær as fathers. Who is more of a “father” between the two?
“They’re two different people, but they both give a lot to the team. Playing with Ibra gives you inexplicable stimuli, Zlatan fires you up even if he doesn’t play. He does it even now that he’s not training with us: he’s always there. He knows we need him but he needs us too, we’re almost one. Kjær talks and explains a lot on the pitch, he’s a sort of second coach.”
You’re Italian and one of the youngest in the squad. Advantage or responsibility?
“We’ve always said that we all have responsibilities, all players, regardless if we’re young or old. We share everything.”
What have you learned from Kessié and Bennacer?
“I studied them and they taught me a lot, even in training. They’ve grown a lot at Milan, they’re role models for their team-mates.”
You immediately got used to the internal competition, but the crowding in the midfield could increase: Pobega can stay and there’s talk of Bakayoko. Ready to compete even more?
“Having so many excellent teammates should not create competition but offer input to give everything and improve. The bar must be kept high, it’s good for the whole team.”
Pioli plays with a 4-2-3-1, but if he were to switch to a three-man midfield would you see yourself more as a deep-lying playmaker or a mezz’ala?
“It’s been a couple of years since I last played in front of the defense in a three-man midfield, but I think my team-mates and I can move into any position. That’s the beauty of our midfield: there are no defined roles a priori: everyone can move around.”
Giroud immediately talked about the Scudetto, Tomori too, we know how Ibra thinks… Will you fight for first place?
“Yes. We’re all fighting together for the same goal. The team’s thoughts are the same.”
What goal have you set for the Champions League?
“We want to go as far as possible. We’re returning after many years away and we know it won’t be easy, but we’re Milan. Europe is our home.”
If you close your eyes, which great midfielder do you imagine to challenge?
“Modrić, I’ve always admired him. Playing against him would be a pleasure.”
How important is it to see Maldini at Milanello every day?
“Paolo is a pillar, especially in this moment: we’re young and training under his eyes, talking to him, gives you special energy. When I signed my new contract, we took stock of myself and Milan together: the past year, the changes, and the future to be built… It was nice.”
You played in a packed San Siro as an opponent, soon you might do it as a Rossonero. How do you imagine it?
“I’ve been waiting for two years, a full San Siro is the best, and it will be exciting. I hope it can happen soon, and with as many people as possible, obviously respecting safety regulations.”
You were on the national team when you were 19, but you watched the European Championship on TV. Did you suffer?
“As a team-mate and as a fan, but it was also fantastic to experience it from home. The victory made me proud like all Italians.”
When Mancini called you up for the first time, your grandmother Gina said: ‘I thought of my husband, he said Sandro would become a world champion’. In a year and a half there’s the World Cup in Qatar: will Tonali be there?
“The national team is a consequence of what you do with the club. The field will do the talking, we’ll see. I’ll work hard to be there.”
Between family and friends, who is Sandro Tonali’s biggest fan?
“It’s a good fight, also because almost all of them are Milan fans… At home there are also some ‘coaches’ who scold me: ‘You should have given it like that… You missed that shot…’.”
At Brescia he had excellent averages as a free-kick assist. Now that Çalhanoğlu is gone, are you ready to take on the responsibility of taking set-pieces?
“Definitely. We’ll decide with the coach and his staff.”
You’ve gone 37 games without scoring for Milan. Have you missed scoring?
“I’m not someone who scores often, but it’s a box that needs to be filled. A goal is always a goal, even for a midfielder who is happy if he assists a team-mate.”
You wanted Milan, but Milan also believed in Tonali. What can you promise the club and the fans?
“First of all I would like to thank the club, because they bet on me twice. I don’t like proclamations, but I can assure you that I’ll do everything I can to prove I’m ‘da Milan’.”