AC Milan have been on the fringes of European football for so long that their return to the big stage sparked wild celebrations in the city.
The Rossoneri defeated Atalanta on the final day of the Serie A season, which confirmed their place in the top-four. Two well-taken penalties from Franck Kessie on either side of the half were enough to seal a 2-0 win for Stefano Pioli’s ever-improving side.
As the players took the celebrations onto the team bus, chants of ‘Pioli is on fire’ could be heard from every corner in acknowledgement of the tremendous work that their manager has done.
AC Milan back in Champions League
The win over Atalanta means AC Milan will play in next season’s UEFA Champions League after finishing second in Serie A.
The Rossoneri were neck and neck with city rivals Inter Milan in the title race for large parts of the season but their ambitions were derailed by a series of underwhelming results. A goalless draw at home against Cagliari last week also meant AC Milan were at risk of missing out on Champions League qualification.
However, they rose to the occasion on Sunday by beating Atalanta on the road to book their ticket to Europe’s most prestigious club competition.
This is also the first time since the 2012/13 season that AC Milan have qualified for the Champions League and that explains their wild celebrations.
Pioli finally among the big boys
Much of AC Milan’s success this season can be attributed to Pioli. Since taking charge, he has ensured that the team continues to improve.
A year ago, Pioli was on the verge of being replaced by Ralf Rangnick. But he forced the management to cancel a pre-agreement with Rangnick after results improved tremendously post-lockdown.
For a manager who was set to step down at the end of last season, he has managed to transform Milan from a fragile side to one that has now qualified for the Champions League. He definitely deserves praise for his impact.
“We knew we could close a cycle, we begin to build a new Milan after a 5-0 defeat in Bergamo. It was a challenging and thrilling path, we’ve reached an important goal,” Pioli said after the win over Atalanta, as quoted by Football Italia.
“The tricky part of the season came when we began losing some games. We felt the tension and the concern, but we always believed in what we were doing.
“We have some clear principles in our heads. We don’t want to wait, we want to control the game instead. Some situations can change during the game, but we always want to be in control of the game.”
There’s a seeming perception that Pioli doesn’t quite get the kind of respect he deserves despite his amazing coaching career.
He has so far managed Lazio, Inter and Fiorentina but qualifying AC Milan for the Champions League now puts him on the pedestal of the other big European managers.