Milan (AFP) – AC Milan’s Serie A title is a personal triumph for coach Stefano Pioli, a mild-mannered father figure to the young talent who powered the charge to the Scudetto.
In a league where managerial histrionics and post-match outbursts are commonplace, Pioli is a relatively restrained figure who rarely loses his cool in public and commands an obvious affection from his players.
He has dealt with Milan losing big players like Italy goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma as free agents without kicking up a fuss and adapted to lead a vibrant squad containing youngsters like Sandro Tonali, Rafael Leao and Fikayo Tomori.
Milan’s first title since 2011 is his first major trophy as a coach, a remarkable honour which comes at the age of 56 and after a managerial career which had never previously threatened to reach such heights.
Before arriving at Milan Pioli was most famous for being Fiorentina manager when in March 2018 Viola captain Davide Astori was found dead in a hotel room before a match at Udinese.
Pioli showed his man management ability in the emotional aftermath of that tragedy, and bears a tattoo of Astori in remembrance of a popular player.
“We were only together for a short period of time but it was an experience that will keep us together for the rest of my life,” Pioli said last year.
“Every time that I get an unexpected phone call I relive a trauma that I don’t think any of us have ever gotten over.”
– ‘Hand in hand’ –
When Pioli arrived at Milan in October 2019 — six months after he resigned in Florence — it was to replace Marco Giampaolo, an erratic coach and the latest in a long line of managers the Rossoneri churned through in the largely miserable eight years since last winning the league.
Expectations were not high that Pioli could do much with a team which had won three and lost four of their opening seven matches, and a contract until the end of the season did not signal a huge amount of faith from the Milan hierarchy.
Initial results were no more encouraging than they were under Giampaolo: just three more wins between his appointment and the winter break.
A 5-0 humiliation at Atalanta in their final fixture of 2019 was probably the nadir of Pioli’s career and led to calls for him too to be fired, but after the arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic over Christmas something clicked.
Intially powered by the superstar Swedish forward, Milan flew up the table to sixth and qualified for Europe, and the good results eventually led to Milan not hiring Ralf Rangnick and giving Pioli a chance to take the club forward.
That faith shown in him paid off for both him and the club, a hugely impressive second place last season now followed up with a league title that no-one expected at the start of the campaign.
Now the pair are hand-in-hand in their bid to take one of Europe’s most storied teams back to the very top of the game.
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