Milan legend Roberto Donadoni previewed the upcoming Milan derby, recounting his experiences over the years with the Rossoneri. Both Milanese sides have started the season with perfect records and head into the derby with a number of new summer signings who are starting to find their feet. Speaking with La Gazzetta dello Sport, Donadoni talked about his career over the years with Milan, how he came close to coaching the Rossoneri, and his impressions of the situation with Saudi football:
What were you like as a child?
“I grew up in Cisano Bergamasco playing with my primary school classmates, my first team. They were all good, we challenged those in middle school. I had to play with the handbrake on….”
Despite the handbrake, you arrived at Atalanta…
“But until I was 14-15 years old I was so small that they thought of selling me. My brother then said: ‘I’d rather buy him’. I stayed, then you know how it went.”
In 1986 you went to AC Milan, Berlusconi’s first signing…
“Bortolotti, president of Atalanta, had decided to sell me to Juve but I, supported by the general manager Previtali, pushed for Milan. I was rooting for them…”
Your most beautiful AC Milan match?
“The ’89 European Cup final with Steaua. We played better games and beat stronger opponents, but that was the watershed that propelled us into another dimension: we made them look mediocre. And they were not.”
In the 2-0 defeat to Malines in 1990 Donadoni was sent off but for the Gazzetta he was the best, 7.5: ‘Unstoppable’.
“I was able to do everything, yes, even if the result was unlocked after my sending off… It was one of my best performances. I remember another one, in the national team. Italy-Hungary, I was coming from months of pubalgia, the morning of the match I woke up with the usual pain. I stepped onto the pitch and the discomfort disappeared. I scored two goals and scored a penalty, the game was over after 45 minutes. I felt like a Martian. In the second half the pain returned.”
Did you ever argue with Sacchi?
“Arrigo was very demanding, you know, he had this tendency to drive you into matches. And if you played on the wing near the bench… He once hammered me relentlessly during a friendly. I told him, ‘Coach, at least leave me alone today…?”
When did you realise you were going to coach?
“I had stopped playing and my wife suggested I take the course at Coverciano. I never understood if she did it for me or for herself: maybe she was tired of having me around all the time…”
You have coached in Serie A, in China, you have been coach of the national team. Milan never happened: did you come close?
“In 2019, after Giampaolo’s sacking…..Boban called me but I was at Shenzhen, I didn’t feel like leaving on the run. I’m a person of my word. In ’96 I was ending my contract with AC Milan: they offered me one year, I asked for two and agreed with the New York Metrostars. I played a good European Championship and Galliani called me: ‘We’re offering you another two years. I went to the USA. In 2017 Tavecchio called me for the post-Ventura role. I was in the office with Fenucci and Bigon, I put him on speakerphone: ‘President, thank you but I have a commitment with Bologna and I want to honour it.”
The strongest teammate and the most annoying opponent?
“Van Basten the best. I’ve taken a lot of beatings…. Beppe Baresi, Conte, Vierchowod. And Bruscolotti: he used to tell me ‘if you cross the midfield line I’ll break your leg.”
The presidents to whom you are most attached?
“Berlusconi, a professional and human example. And Spinelli: at Livorno there were a few misunderstandings, all settled over the years. Every now and then he calls me: ‘I don’t understand, how can someone as good as you be without a team?”
The derby of your heart?
‘The second one I played. Berlusconi had signed Galderisi but Liedholm preferred Virdis and Hateley. Galderisi, who wanted to play at all costs, to understand what the air was like without going through Liedholm, called on the magician Maggi, to whom the coach was very close. In the end all three played and we won 2-1.”
Inter and Milan leading alone: what kind of derby will it be on the 16th?
“I don’t know how it will end, but I do know that it will last the whole year: Milan and Inter are set for the Scudetto and Champions League. The Nerazzurri have more awareness, Milan have the resourcefulness of the new ones, who I like all of them, Reijnders, Loftus-Cheek…”.
And Pulisic, who reminds some people of Donadoni. What do you think of Donadoni?
“He is decisive, he plays everywhere, he excels in one-on-one….And he scores great goals, like in Bologna. A bit like Donadoni, yes.”
In ’99 you played and won with Al-Ittihād. Did you ever think that one day the Ballon d’Or Benzema would go to Arabia with Ronaldo and so many other stars?
“It’s impressive. I have wonderful memories, it was a total experience of culture and life. Arabia today is pushing to grow fast, but to give continuity you have to start from the basics. Not from the tip of the pyramid’.
Were you surprised by Mancini’s choice?
“The timing and the methods can be discussed. But I think that when faced with certain figures it would be difficult for everyone to say no, even those who criticise him today.”