Stefano Pioli feels team spirit will be “crucial” ahead of the 2021-22 campaign and he pointed towards Simon Kjaer and Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the men who lead by example at Milan.
Having been appointed in 2019, with the Rossoneri slumped in 13th in Serie A, Pioli guided his side up to 6th at the end of the campaign before a second-place finish last season – their joint-highest since winning the Scudetto in 2010-11.
Simon Kjaer, who ranked second among Milan defenders for aerial duels won (55) and first for interceptions (42) in 2020-21, was a standout performer as the Rossoneri undertook something of a transformation under Pioli.
And after Kjaer’s heroics at Euro 2020, involving the potentially life-saving actions he performed to deal with Christian Eriksen’s concerning collapse against Finland, Pioli appeared unsurprised by the Dane’s clarity of mind.
“I already knew the value of Kjaer. He is a man of rare intelligence and sensitivity,” the head coach told Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano.
“He used those qualities to save a friend. He was lucid and precise even in such a dramatic situation.”
But Pioli was not just full of praise for Kjaer, as he shifted his focus to define the important role that Ibrahimovic plays for the Rossoneri.
The 39-year-old netted 15 times during the last Serie A campaign, though it is the forward’s presence off the pitch that the former Inter head coach sees as a great aid.
“Ibrahimovic has helped me a lot, he is an example in everything he does. He demands the best from himself and the others. Zlatan and Simon [Kjaer] have changed the team, not just technically, but especially in the moral sense,” Pioli added.
— AC Milan (@acmilan) July 21, 2021
Milan, who play Serie C side Modena on Saturday, are well underway with their pre-season plans as they prepare to compete in the Champions League for the first time since 2013-14.
The signings of Olivier Giroud, Fikayo Tomori and Sandro Tonali – the latter pair making their loan deals permanent – will only further develop an already strong squad, and Pioli is looking forward to the season ahead.
“We must not set limits for ourselves, but it will be a difficult season because there will be seven teams fighting for the top four,” the head coach said.
“The group is crucial, Italy won the Euros because you could see the team spirit in their eyes. You don’t win with tactics, you win by putting the group ahead of yourself.”
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