Niang: ‘I can be Milan captain’

M’Baye Niang puts himself forward as Milan captain and reveals how Coach Vincenzo Montella transformed team spirit.

The Derby della Madonnina with Inter kicks off on Sunday at 19.45 GMT, click here for a match preview.

“The goal I scored in the last derby took a weight off my shoulders,” the Frenchman told Tuttosport of that 3-0 victory in January.

M’Baye Niang puts himself forward as Milan captain and reveals how Coach Vincenzo Montella transformed team spirit.

The Derby della Madonnina with Inter kicks off on Sunday at 19.45 GMT, click here for a match preview.

“The goal I scored in the last derby took a weight off my shoulders,” the Frenchman told Tuttosport of that 3-0 victory in January.

“I felt free after that, as I wanted to be decisive in a big game and therefore it was the perfect evening for me, providing a goal and an assist.

“It would be important for us to win this weekend’s derby too, so I consider that above individual targets like scoring a goal. Will I sleep before the derby? Oh I always sleep well.

“I think Carlos Bacca will score tomorrow. If he doesn’t, then I will!”

Ex-goalkeeper Christian Abbiati said that Milan had issues last season with players who sulked when not picked and would create friction. What has changed this term?

“We have realised what we are capable of,” replied Niang. “We have a nice mix in the squad now, as there are 26-27 players who know they can all get a game.

“Montella introduced himself to us and declared: ‘I will make a group of this squad.’ He was right. When we’re struggling during a match, it is the group dynamic that pushes each individual to give more.

“However, we are just at the start. There will be new challenges and hurdles to overcome during the course of the campaign and that’s when we must be more united than ever.

“We’re in third place right now, but the table is so tight that we’d just have to lose one game and we’d be right back to where we started.

“Nobody expected us to be this high up the standings. Now we have to keep it going, because Milan simply must be back in Europe.”

Niang has a newfound maturity this season, a far cry from his teenage antics that included driving without a licence and telling police he was his teammate Bakaye Traore.

“I’m a normal guy who as a young man did make some mistakes. The important thing is I’ve learned my lesson.”

With Riccardo Montolivo injured, the captain’s armband is up for grabs at Milan. Does Niang see himself as a leader?

“I know when to speak up and give advice to the younger players. I’d love to be the captain, why not? I’ve been here for four years, after all,” said the striker who turns 22 next month.

“I’ve gone through experienced that helped me to learn. I try to play an important role in the locker room and improve myself.”

Niang is one of many players who came to Milan via agent Mino Raiola, but surprisingly changed representation. What happened?

“I don’t want to talk about it,” was his reply.

Nonetheless, he remains firm friends with former teammate and current Raiola client Mario Balotelli.

This week Balotelli said if Nice win Ligue 1, he’ll fly a helicopter over the French city. So what would Niang do if Milan get into the Champions League?

“If I take control of the helicopter, you know how that would end! I’ll go to dinner to celebrate, including with Balotelli, as long as he’s on the ground.”

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