Tonali to Milan: Conte's Inter taking a huge gamble by picking Vidal over Barcelona & Man Utd target
Let usget one thing straight right away: Sandro Tonali is not the new Andrea Pirlo.
There are obvious similarities, of course.
Tonali is a long-haired regista who made his name at Brescia. It was always inevitable that he would be compared to Pirlo, whose evolution took a decisive turn during his time playing under Carlo Mazzone at the Stadio Mario Rigamonti.
However, Tonali does notquite understand the comparison – "It's only because of the hair!" – and nor does Pirlo.
"It is said that he may be my heir, but I don't see many things in common," the Italian icon admitted during an Instagram Live with Nicolo De Devitiis.
"He is a different type of player. He is much more complete both in the defensive phase and when he sets up.
"He is a mix between my characteristics and those of other players."
Indeed, it is telling that Milan fan Tonali grew up idolising Gennaro Gattuso – not Pirlo.
It is hardly surprising, then, that he is more aggressive and physically stronger than Pirlo, a deep-lying midfielder more preoccupied with defensive work and moving the ball on quickly.
Tonali freely admits himself that he does not have Pirlo's remarkable range of passing – at least not yet.
When a couple of friends showed him footage of Pirlo calling him more "complete", Tonali was dumbfounded.
"I'm still speechless now," he recently admitted to Sportweek. "All I can say to him is, thank you. And that I'd like to learn things from him... The long pass from deep, accurate to within a millimetre.
"I know that with the right sacrifices, I can reach the top. I haven't achieved half of what I have in mind, but I feel good enough to make it."
Pirlo and Tonali are in total agreement on that front too.
"He is the most promising of midfielders," the World Cup winner said. "He will surely become a great player."
Which is why Tonali’s transfer to Milan could have such wide-ranging repercussions.
When Gianluigi Buffon ran into Adriano Galliani at a pre-season tournament in the summer of 2011, the Juventus goalkeeper immediately expressed his gratitude to the Milan CEO for allowing Pirlo to move to Turin on a free transfer.
"Thank you," Buffon said, "because you have truly tried to make the league more balanced."
In reality, he only further distorted it, with Galliani's decision not to renew Pirlo's contract facilitating arguably the most seismic shift in power in Italian football history.
With the playmaker pulling the strings in midfield, Juventus went from seventh place to Serie A champions in the space of a year, with Pirlo winning the first of three consecutive Player of the Season awards.
He may have left Turin in 2015, but the Bianconeri's record-breaking run of nine successive Scudetti owes much to his arrival from Milan four years previously.
The Rossoneri were never able to rectify that gross error of judgement.
However, they have now made amends for rejecting Tonali as an eight-year-old.
On Wednesday, it was confirmed that Milan had agreed a €10 million (£9m/$12m) loan deal with Brescia for the midfielder, whose transfer will be made permanent next year for an additional €25m (£22m/$30m), plusa possible €10m in bonuses.
The majority of Inter fans, meanwhile, are livid.
Not only did the Nerazzurri back out of a deal to sign Tonali from Brescia, they allowed hated citry rivals Milan to swoop in and sign the 20-year-old, who had previously been the subject of bids from Barcelona and Manchester United, according to Brescia president Massimo Cellino.
It is a bold one, too; one that could well play a massive part in his future at the club.
Only two weeks ago, Conte held showdown talks with Inter president Steven Zhang over his future at the club. At the end of a three-hour summit in Varese, it was agreed that he would continue as coach for another season.
The following day, the key figures at Inter discussed the club's summer transfer plans. It was at that meeting that Conte expressed his preference for signing Arturo Vidal rather than Tonali.
In doing so, he essentially prioritised instant success over long-term gain.
That may well be the right strategy for Conte, who never lasts long at the clubs he coaches, but it could prove a costly approach from Inter's perspective.
Vidal is now 33 years of age and no longer the force of nature that propelled Conte's Juve to three Scudetti in a row between 2012 and 2015.
He still has something to offer at the highest level, of course, and is a huge admirer of Conte's.
"As a coach, he's a machine!" Vidal told Daniel Habif earlier this week. "Tactically, he's the number one. He knew how to adapt my characteristics to his style of play."
Vidal will undoubtedly bring a level of experience and winning mentality that Inter's engine room lacked last season.
Inter supporters, however, are nonetheless concerned by the fact that they have essentially gifted their rivals the kind of generational talent who could anchor the Milan midfield for the next decade.
Indeed, the Rossoneri are rightly excited by the prospect of Tonali joining a team that already contains a group of players with their best years ahead of them: Gianluigi Donnarumma (21), Theo Hernandez (22), Alessio Romagnoli (25), Ismael Bennacer (22), Franck Kessie (23) and Ante Rebic (26).
The Rossoneri may not be ready to challenge for the Scudetto next season but, if sporting director Paolo Maldini continues to complement this young core with bargain buys boasting both experience and quality, it should not be too long before they are in title contention again.
So, while Tonali may not be 'the new Pirlo', his transfer could dramatically alter the shape of the Serie A landscape. His arrival at Milan will notsuddenly spark a run of nine consecutive Scudetti, but it definitely has the potential to make the league more balanced.
Source : goal.com
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