Stefano Pioli commends Mike Maignan for handling racist Udinese fans adeptly and elucidates that Rafael Leao’s growth process is still ongoing at Milan.
An emotional night unfolded at the Bluenergy Stadium, with Ruben Loftus-Cheek initiating the scoring before Lazar Samardzic and Florian Thauvin orchestrated a turnaround.
Luka Jovic headed in the rebound after Olivier Giroud’s attempt hit the underside of the bar, and Noah Okafor sealed the 3-2 result with a strike from a corner in stoppages.
Nevertheless, the match became overshadowed as referee Fabio Maresca suspended play for five minutes with Milan leading 1-0. This interruption was prompted by the persistent racist abuse directed at goalkeeper Maignan by Udinese supporters situated right behind his goal.
“Clearly, he was disappointed. I am proud to coach someone like Mike, who is so respectful, fair and proud. We’ve had enough of hearing certain things in the stadium – ignorant people have to stay home.
“We should’ve scored more than one goal in the first half, then out of nowhere conceded twice and it became difficult. This is proof that if you keep playing, keep believing in yourselves and your teammates, then you can turn it around. We expected it to be a tough and physical match, but we had the right approach and showed character to win it late on.”
Pioli won his 100th Serie A game with Milan
The triumph solidifies the hold on the third-place position, virtually securing a spot in the Champions League.
“We need to take it one game at a time, try to win as many as possible to be protagonists. Inter and Juventus are going at such a pace that it becomes difficult to look too far into the future, we just have to keep going and see what happens.”
In defense, Rafael Leao contributed and displayed a lesser inclination to score goals, but Pioli clarified that the Portuguese talent is still in the process of development.
“Rafa’s technical, tactical and mental growth process has not finished yet. The statistics show he is already a more associative player with key passes and assists, considerably more than in the past. We also changed our style, we control the game more and don’t go on the counter, so that leaves fewer spaces for Rafa to run into, he is learning how to break out from tight spaces too.
“These are all players with the quality to be at this level, but in order to be at Milan, you need the right attitude too. Everyone has to chase opponents down, fight hard and help out, this is how we can win as many points as possible.”