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Sandro Tonali has long been views as the next Andrea Pirlo. For years, Tonali was associated with the former AC Milan star and Italian legend for the steps he took during his career, and also for the way he looks. Long hair, started his senior career at Brescia, became a key player for AC Milan where he won the 2021-22 Scudetto under coach Stefano Pioli, it all had the trappings of the one- time iconic AC Milan midfielder.

But then, that's it. Tonali is not Pirlo and won't be Pirlo. Not necessarily because he's not as good as him, just because they're much different, as the soccer legend himself said during an interview back in 2020, when Tonali was just 20 years-old talent playing for Brescia: "In my opinion he doesn't look like me as a type of footballer, he looks more like me due to his long hair. For me he is another type of player, much more complete, both in the defensive phase and in setting up; it's a mix between me and other players. He is certainly the most promising midfielder in Italy". 

Tonali can play in different roles of the midfield, but expressed himself at his best when he played alongside a more physical defensive midfielder, like Franck Kessie or Ismael Bennacer at AC Milan, where he can show his vision of the game much better. He can also improve, considering that he's only 23. As is game develops he can definitely score more goals and be more impactful when it comes to the final third of the pitch. In fact, he only scored seven goals in 130 games with AC Milan, and six in 89 for Brescia. With the National team, he still have to make the impact as he did for AC Milan, but it only will be a matter of time. With Tonali, Nicolò Barella, Davide Frattesi and many others the future of the Italian midfield is in very good hands. 

Tonali's background

Tonali was born in Lodi in 2000, a small town close to Milan, where he actually started to play soccer for the team Lombardia Uno, where he took his his first steps as a young footballer with the dream to play for his childhood club, AC Milan. The Rossoneri were always a dream for the young kid with the long hair, but he eventually had to wait for some time before wearing the iconic jersey. Brescia noticed his talent and signed him to their academy. At Brescia, he grew up as a man and as a player, and made his professional debut in the Italian second division at the age of 17. 

It was another brilliant midfielder of Italian soccer, Eugenio Corini, who made him a starting player for Brescia when he was appointed in the fall 2018, and Tonali was named for two years in a row the best young player of the Italian Serie B. During the 2019-20 season, after Brescia was promoted to the Serie A, Tonali made his Serie A debut, with a lot of expectations. All the eyes of the big clubs were already on him, but they all wanted to see his impact among the big stars. It went well. 

Tonali comes to AC Milan

Despite Brescia getting relegated to Serie B, Inter put their eyes on Tonali and started negotiations with former Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino, the current owner of Brescia, to sign the midfielder. Negotiations went on for a while, until AC Milan jumped in the race to sign the young midfielder. Inter dragged their feet as their coach at the time, Antonio Conte, was demanding players with more experience to help chase the title (which Inter would in fact go on to win), Paolo Maldini and coach Stefano Pioli were just confirmed to stay at Milan after a difficult summer. They had both seemed close to leaving, with Ralf Rangnick rumored to be taking over with the support of the then CEO of the club Ivan Gazidis. 

But, after the good results on the pitch after the Covid outbreak during the summer, Gazidis decided to confirm both Pioli and Maldini, who were also instructed to chart a new course for the club, with young talented players that could win trophies in the near future. Tonali was the perfect profile for the club, and AC Milan jumped in the race, also taking advantage of the fact that Tonali supported the Rossoneri since he was a kid. 

AC Milan and Brescia found an agreement for the loan of Tonali for €10 million, with a €15 million option to buy included in the deal, plus €10 million in add-ons, for a potential €35 million deal. Despite the big expectations, the first year of Tonali at the club was not easy for him and he struggled to become a key player under the management of Pioli, also due to the fact that both Bennacer and Kessie were crucial players for the tactical system of the Italian manager. At the end of the season, AC Milan qualified for the UEFA Champions League group stage, but two key players left the club as free agents. Gianluigi Donnarumma and Hakan Calhanoglu decided to not extend their agreements and left the Rossoneri fans disappointed. Especially the second one, who joined city rivals Inter few weeks after, while Donnarumma was replaced by the, back then mostly unknown, Mike Maignan. 

AC Milan win the Scudetto with Tonali

In this difficult environment, AC Milan wanted to renegotiate the agreement they signed one year before with Brescia for Tonali, and raised some questions about the future of the Italian talent. Tonali, to make the deal happen, decided to reduce his salary by €500,000 and AC Milan obtained a new and better price from Brescia. It was a transfer masterpiece of Maldini, but one that could happen only thanks to the will of Tonali, who immediately became an idol among the fans especially after what happened with Donnarumma and Calhanoglu. 

From that moment on, everything changed for Tonali and AC Milan. The former Brescia player became a crucial midfielder for Pioli, who made him a starter as a central midfielder in the 4-2-3-1, and the Rossoneri ended up winning a historic Scudetto, fighting until the last matchday against Inter and former teammate Calhanoglu. Tonali quickly became one of the faces of AC Milan, embracing the club's winning mentality and also a fan favorite as he is "one of them."

Tonali is truly an AC Milan supporter. When he was a kid he once sent a letter asking to Saint Lucy, the equivalent of Santa Claus for the people of the Brescia area, if she believed he could become a professional soccer player. That day, the little Sandro, didn't receive a material answer, but kept dreaming until he managed to make it happen. His grandmother Gina, who is still very close to Tonali, kept that letter at her house. In that letter, Tonali also asked to Saint Lucy a kit of the club he wanted one day to play for. That club was AC Milan and from now he can only support his former teammates from England.