“I feel good in Milan, I could stay there forever”, said Stefano Pioli after his team’s victory in the derby against Inter (1-2) on February 5th. A statement unimaginable a year and a half ago for the Italian coach who is currently going through a bad patch with two consecutive draws against poorly ranked teams – Udinese (1-1) and Salernitana (2-2) – but who is still in the race for the title on equal points with Naples, the leader, before the trip to Neapolitan soil on Sunday and in the cup with the semi-final first leg of the Italian Cup against Inter Milan on Tuesday. “ We are in the decisive moment of the season. We have come a long way in his two and a half years, but only what we do from tomorrow will count. This is the last step, the most difficult, the one that turns you into winners”coach rossonero explained on Monday at a press conference.
Even with these few turbulences, the Italian remains confident, and his popularity rating in Milan does not drop either with the supporters or the management team. He also extended his contract last November until June 2023. However, the sky has not always been blue over the head of the former Fiorentina defender.
Arrived in October 2019 to take over from Marco Giampaolo, the Italian technician recovers a sick AC Milan 13th in the league after 8 days, and as much to say that the coach labeled as ex-coach of Inter was not welcome. The proof, even before his official appointment the hashtag #PioliOut was all over social media. The fans of Diavoli thus expressed their doubts and their disappointment because they saw arriving at the head of the team a coach whose greatest feat was a third place in the league with Lazio in 2015.
From #PioliOut to Piolismo
Stefano Pioli, who we now call Mr Piolibecame at the time the ninth coach of AC Milan since 2014 and the departure of Massimiliano Allegri, last winner of the Scudetto with the Rossoneri. “My three watchwords are: ideas, intensity and audacity” announced the new coach when he took office. With its “ideas” and his 4-2-3-1, he managed to gradually impose his paw and a certain stability in the club despite popular vindictiveness and the deleterious context within the Milanese staff which led in particular to the eviction of Zvonimir Boban, the club’s General Manager of Football in March 2020. Often announced on the departure while his management was openly discussing with Ralf Rangnick for the German to replace him, the 56-year-old coach managed to end his first season at an honorable 6th place in Serie A, qualifying for the Europa League. The following year Pioli had all the cards in hand from the outset and continued to set up Piolismo by instilling in his group a real winning mentality and the idea of playing attacking football.
The native of Parma delivered his vision of football in 2003 in a memoir of about twenty pages achieved during the passage of his coaching diploma. Pioli then explained that his game system had to be “balanced and elastic” with a “offensive pressing on the sides and recovery of the ball in the opposing half” made possible by “the technique, the speed of execution, the speed of movement as well as the ability to read any situation”. A writing that may seem prophetic today when we tackle what the AC Milan coach has put in place. Thanks to a clever mix of youth and experience, the Lombard technician strengthens his team with young talents like Sandro Tonali, Brahim Diaz or Fikayo Tomori whom he integrates into his group composed of Simon Kjaer or Zlatan Ibrahimovic among others. It works well, even if Milan, leader at the truce, collapses in the second half of the season and finishes second in Serie A behind Inter Milan, but the club nevertheless finds the Champions League after seven years of absence.
The year of confirmation on and off the pitch?
For this third season on the rossonero bench, the Italian discovered the group stage of the Champions League with a group as inexperienced as him in European games. He started at Liverpool with six players in his starting XI who, like him, were having their first Champions game. Concretely, the march was much too high for this still convalescing Milan which logically finished last in the “Group of Death”. But the end of the continental campaign has not dampened the ambitions of the Italian coach of the year 2020 according to the Gazetta Dello Sport. Indeed, Pioli, who retired from his coaching career in 2006 in Parma, wants to do better than last season and above all try to win his first trophy as a coach. For this he was able to count on arrivals this summer, such as the two Frenchmen Olivier Giroud (10 goals) and Mike Maignan (9 clean sheets) who came to strengthen a team “who is more mature than she was last year” according to the transalpine tactician. But like his last two outings, his training still lacks regularity, especially against the small with already 12 points lost since the start of the season against the last 10 Serie A teams against only 6 points for Inter Milan last year over the whole season.
Behind the scenes, on the other hand, it is working very well at the moment since the players are adhering to the coach and club project, like Theo Hernandez, very courted in Europe, who recently extended until 2026. The technical director of the Rossoneri Paolo Maldini also announced that the club’s management was negotiating extensions for Rafael Leão and Ismaël Bennacer. “A sign that the club has a vision for the present and for the future” declared Stefano Pioli after the extension of the French side. Still with this idea of strengthening and becoming more and more competitive over time, Stefano Pioli and Milan are looking for players who know how to win, like the two French champions from Lille Renato Sanches and Sven Botman, designated priority targets for the club for the next transfer window. It remains to be seen whether, despite the current difficulties, Pioli’s Milan will succeed in raising the bar to win this year a first trophy for the club since the 2016 Italian Super Cup and thus take a new step towards the return of AC Milan to the heights of Italian football.