How Sandro Tonali Regained His Golden Boy Status at Milan

“The Brescia Golden Boy”. This was the quasi-official nickname of Sandro Tonali before his move to Milan in 2020. The young midfielder rose to prominence as a teenager during his time with Le Rondinelle, prompting a bidden war between the Milanese giants for his services during the summer of 2020.

The Italian eventually followed his heart, moving to the black and red side of Milano, much to delight of the Diavolo supporters who took every chance to rub it in the faces of their crosstown “cousins”.

Nonetheless, the player’s first campaign with his new club was far from ideal. Franck Kessié was arguably the best midfielder in Italy last season, while Ismael Bennacer proved to be his best sidekick, forming a solid double pivot at the heart of Stefano Pioli’s lineup.

On the other hand, Tonali struggled for game-time early on at Milan, and even when he entered the pitch, he never truly set the world on fire, leaving much to be desired.

Following his underwhelming start to life at Milanello, some fans and observers began to doubt Sandro’s abilities. A man who was once labelled as a mixture between Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso (if such creature may truly exist) must surely deliver better performances.

However, lost was the fact that Tonali was only 20-years-old when he made the move from a small provincial side that bounces between Italy’s top two tiers, to one of the most successful clubs in the history of the sport.

Being an Italian citizen was supposed to be advantage. A local boy is likely to integrate within the squad and adapt to the atmosphere more quickly than a foreigner. But on the flip side, this could be a huge burden on the local player’s shoulders, as the jersey could weigh on him more than his imported teammates.

Perhaps that was one of the reasons why Tonali didn’t take the world by storm during his first season at Milan. The youngster looked too tense at times and unable to replicate his creative plays from his time at Brescia.

But most importantly, labelling a 20-year-old as a flop is an almost-criminal act that some of us commit from time to time. Tonali wasn’t failing last season, he was simply developing.

Moreover, we should have remembered that the players who were ahead of Sandro in the pecking order last campaign weren’t exactly better midfielders than him at the age of 20.

But props should be given for club directors Paolo Maldini and Ricky Massara who insisted on buying the player’s card from Brescia last summer despite some reports claiming that the Rossoneri could drop the deal altogether (which wouldn’t have made any sense).

Additionally, credit must also go in the direction of Stefano Pioli, as the Milan manager’s work with Tonali is beginning to bear its fruits since the start of the new campaign.

The 21-year-old is on a spectacular form, usurping Bennacer in the pecking order and even proving to be the team’s most dynamic midfielder (ahead of the currently-inconsistent Kessié).

Here at the Cult of Calcio, we picked Tonali as the man of the match for his side’s draw against Juventus and also for the big win over Atalanta – which have thus far been the most important Serie A fixtures for Milan this season.

Roberto Mancini may have decided to look over the central midfielder when choosing his lineup for the UEFA Nations League finals, but this doesn’t change anything for Sandro, as the sky remains the limit for a hard-working young man from Lombardy who cemented himself once again as the Golden Boy of Italian football.

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