Pioli on Giroud impact, Leao potential, Astori death and Ibrahimovic mentality

Stefano Pioli lauded the work of Olivier Giroud and underlined what Rafael Leao needs to do to become a truly top player.

The Rossoneri currently sit second in the Serie A table entering the winter break, eight points behind league leaders Napoli. Pioli and his squad will be desperate to make up for lost ground in the second half of the campaign but the pressure is on as the Partenopei fight for their first Scudetto in over three decades. 

Speaking to Sky Sports Italia, Pioli first gave his thoughts on Giroud and his importance to France at the World Cup.

“I think Oli is at an optimal psychophysical moment. He had great enthusiasm for the World Cup and is proving to be a great player. I am happy for him and for Theo, I hope they continue like this. 

“I just had a video call with him to understand his depth and ability. He has always made a big impact, not only with goals. He puts in great generosity on a daily basis. 

“He’s a very determined guys, he has all the important characteristics to be a leader. Is it better for him to leave now? I think it’s much easier to coach satisfied players than to recover them.”

He spoke about Portugal forward Leao and what the next steps are for the 23-year-old.

“I gave a rule to the players who are at the World Cup, they have to call me at the end of every game to tell me how they are. Portugal has a good squad, I don’t go into the question of minutes played. 

“The first year I pricked him, it’s true. But in training I immediately understood what a player he was. He has technique combined with a speed that few have. He needed time to acclimatise, but his potential was immediately apparent. 

“I think he still has to make a leap to become a champion. Does he fit in more? It depends on the strategy of the game, one-on-one becomes difficult to catch. But there are times when he goes central and others when he drops too deep. 

“Such offensive players need to be closer to the penalty area. He can play everywhere. I think he can become even more decisive in the opponent’s area. He is a very intelligent guy, very approachable. 

“However, we are talking about players who have talent, they must have freedom in the last 30 metres. I want him to close in more at the second post, I always tell him that. He should impact more.”

He reflected on the sudden death of former Fiorentina defender Davide Astori.

“His passing touched me deeply. Unfortunately, I say unfortunately, it was a situation that made me grow. After his loss I discovered new situations that opened my mind more. Now I am closer to the players and protect them more. 

“It was not an easy situation to handle. I have had negative experiences in my career, but they are the ones that have served me the most to improve.”

The Rossoneri coach commented on the importance of Ibrahimovic to the squad.

“Without taking anything away from anyone, Zlatan has been a decisive element in the growth of the team. He arrived in a young group, and for the first time in a non-winning team and with players not similar to him, and he understood a different reality. 

“Everyone has been able to accept his strengths and weaknesses. His mentality and determination raised the level of the team. In the first year, training with him was at one level, without him at another. 

“The teammates did well to follow him. Then not only him, there are other leaders like Kjaer, Giroud, Maignan who are the driving force of the group.”

Finally, Pioli discussed defender Pierre Kalulu, who became a first team regular last season.

“Pierre is such a good guy that it seems difficult for him to have that kind of personality on the pitch. He also has the serenity of a mature player. He also overcomes mistakes, he doesn’t dwell and doesn’t weaken. 

“In training, he seemed more at ease as a centre-back. He has better readings than as a full-back. Pierre and Tomori have the characteristics for modern football, even if you sometimes take risks.”

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