Former Milan striker Alexandre Pato sees a little of himself in Rafael Leao and believes the team can get back to winning ways by following the example of his Rossoneri side. The Brazilan striker spoke at length with La Gazzetta dello Sport and touched on the crisis Milan find themselves in ahead of tonight’s Derby della Madonnina as well as his own immediate future and a potential return to Italy:
Very banally, what’s the mood like these days?
“Good. I stayed in Orlando, even though with the club we decided not to renew the contract that was expiring at the end of the year. I’m doing my rehabilitation here, obviously privately, because in Orlando there’s what I need. I still have 3-4 months to go, but this time I want to use all the care and precaution I can. I want to go back to doing what I like best’.
Was it like repeating a nightmare?
“I wouldn’t call it that. The fact is that I believe in God a lot, a faith that became even deeper in Orlando. On the day of the injury, when I was on the bus to go to the stadium, I was talking to him and he warned me that I might be going through something bad. That obviously affected me a lot and I tried not to think about it any more. On the field everything was going smoothly, I mean, I was playing in New York and I was playing very well. At one point, as I was preparing to kick the ball, an opponent slipped from behind and my knee gave out. At that moment I thought back to the fact that God had put me on notice. We just have to carry out his plan, which is much bigger than us. At first I cried, then I told myself that tears would have to give way to hope and work. And so it was. I have never cried again. Every day that passes is a victory for me, despite everything. Just think that I had an appointment to renew the contract two days after the trouble happened, and it was a big contract. I learnt a lot from this experience, today I am very
What’s cooking at the age of 33?
“My agents are talking to European, Arab and Brazilian clubs. I understand that thinking about me right now is not easy, but I intend to come back because I feel I can still give a lot. I am very focused on what I want.
“I would love to return to Europe. I often talk to Cannavaro, I respect him a lot, he’s a friend. Maybe one day he can coach me, or at least help me.
Besides European football, you have remained very attached to Milan. On the other hand, there is a Scudetto, a Super Cup and 63 goals in 150 games. What do you think of the current collapse?
‘Sometimes the management that follows victories is more complicated than when you don’t win. But from experience I say that getting back on your feet is good. When players are young, understanding that you are not unbeatable is a useful lesson. In particular, some important players came back from the World Cup very tired. But I have no doubt that Milan will return to the top.
Many think that the Scudetto can become almost a burden for those who have never won anything before.
“When I arrived at Milan, I found myself in a group that was coming from a winning cycle, but then those victories ended. Then we won the Scudetto again. By this I mean that it is a question of cycles. Kaka told me right away when I arrived: ‘Ale, in Italy everything always goes well straight away, then things can change quickly…’. Today’s Milan won with new players, but if you use the same attitude as last year it’s no good. However I’m sure Pioli will turn the light back on because he’s a great coach. I’d like to get to know him, I’m sure he’s doing his best, he’s someone who studies a lot”.
When you were there, how were the most complicated moments handled in the dressing room?
‘The premise is that there were quite a few legends in my dressing room… There’s only one key: there was no difference between training sessions and matches, the attitude was the same. A beautiful thing. I was lucky enough to see Maldini train 110% every day. He arrived earlier, did extra work. Ibra the same. And Cafu too, the same. Champions who didn’t think about the clock, but only about working as hard as possible. So more than talking, all you had to do to understand the right path was to observe’.
Among the biggest problems at the moment is Leao’s situation: are you among those who advise him to stay where he is?
‘It is difficult to tell him what is better or worse for him. I speak from direct experience, in the past it happened to me to make wrong choices. I say he has to do what he feels with his heart, because sometimes you have too many people around you telling you what to do. He has to follow what is inside him and decide for what will make him happy. I see a bit of myself in him.’
Can it be said that Rafa is reminiscent of the first Pato?
“Let’s say that football has changed a lot. I really liked to go and get the ball from the back, then I was talking to Berlusconi and he was very insistent that I play as a pure centre forward. He would phone me on purpose to tell me ‘Ale, instead of being so far from the goal, play closer because you have fewer opponents to jump over and you can score more goals’. Leao, however, has fantastic characteristics, he is fast, has technique and if I can give him some advice I would tell him to always stay on the outside. In some things we actually resemble each other: the pleasure of having the ball between your feet, the progression. I perhaps had more of a taste for dribbling”.
As a big Rossoneri fan, how did you experience the Scudetto celebration?
“I watched the game in front of the TV and I particularly enjoyed the celebration all over the city. It’s something unimaginable to find yourself at the Duomo with thousands of people in front of you. Seeing those images I relived my Scudetto, and I knew how beautiful it was’.
You scored three goals in seven games against Inter: tell us what it feels like to score in a derby.
‘Goosebumps. You think about that all week, before the game my stomach was tingling, then when you start playing it all disappears. But when you score, the only thing that comes to your mind is: ‘Mamma mia, how beautiful…’. You feel like you’re ten kilos lighter, it’s a feeling of total freedom. Spectacular’.
We talked about Leao: could he be the man of the match in the event of Milan’s success?
“Rafa can make the difference, but I also really like Giroud. He is a friend of the goal, and in the derby he already knows how to do it”.
It will, however, be another derby without Ibra, who is most likely in his last season as a player: you who know him well, in what role would you see him at AC Milan next season?
“In the meantime I hope he’ll be back on the pitch again as a protagonist, football is his whole life. When he stops, he’s someone who has to be inside the locker room. He’s a leader, that’s his role: to make the younger players understand that there’s a difference between winning and losing and that if you lose, it’s not all good anyway. Zlatan lives football in a sanguine way, you know that. I still remember that Milan-Napoli game when he asked me for the ball, I didn’t listen to him and then I went and scored: when we got back to the locker room he told me that if I didn’t score he would kill me. That’s also a winning mentality.
Ibra would have liked to come back against Tottenham. What are Milan’s chances of getting through?
“They can win it, the quarter-finals are possible for them. Of course, the English are difficult to play against in the Champions League, but if Milan change gear they can go through.
And maybe finish ahead of Inter in the league.
“Yes, of course. It will be enough to treasure the games we’ve played badly so far and see the next ones as a final.
If then the help of an important figure like De Ketelaere arrived, everything would be easier.
“When you arrive at AC Milan, especially if you’re young, it’s sometimes difficult to get going straight away. There is pressure everywhere, from the fans and the media. I believe that he, along with Milan, will experience a February of rebirth and will have the opportunity to make up for it. Patience is needed, just as it happened with Leao, I am sure he will do very well. However, he will always have to keep his attention high, also because he is not at Milan in transit’.
Earlier you told us about your chats with Berlusconi: the former president is experiencing a second footballing youth at Monza.
“I’m very happy, I hope Monza continues like this. Berlusconi and Galliani are always in my heart. I’m sure that in a few years Monza will get to challenge Milan and Inter, we know well how it ends when they get into their heads…’.
And who knows, maybe that call you are waiting for this summer from Europe won’t come to you from Brianza.
‘I had already spoken to Berlusconi and Galliani before promotion, but in B, extra-community players are not allowed. We’ll see now, maybe now that I’m in A, I’ll get a message from them…’.