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AC Milan v Man Utd: Diogo Dalot opens up on Bruno Fernandes friendship, being inspired by 'amazing' Zlatan Ibrahimovic and his ‘good feeling’ after Old Trafford return
The AC Milan full-back will face parent club Manchester United once again in the second leg of their Europa League Round of 16 showdown, exclusively live on BT Sport tonight.
The 21-year-old joined the Rossoneri in October and has caught the eye of Red Devils boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with his performances in Serie A this season.
Speaking ahead of the Europa League Round of 16 second leg tie against Milan, in which Dalot is once again expected to start against his parent club, Solskjaer suggested the Portuguese's future looks to be secure on his return.
“The main thing for Diogo this season was to be fit,” said Solskjaer.
“He never managed to be fit for a long spell when he was here [and was] unfortunate with injuries.
He's our player and we're looking forward to having him back
- Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
“Now he's kept fit all season; he's been available for them. He's playing at a big club, big expectations, [with the] great history of the club, so it's been a good year for him.
“So, of course, I've been very pleased with his development this season, and he's our player and we're looking forward to having him back.”
That would appear to be a satisfactory outcome for a player who clearly loved his time in the north-west, despite the challenges he faced after joining as a 19-year-old from Porto for a princely £19m in June 2018.
During an exclusive interview with The Athletic’s James Horncastle this week, Dalot described the sensation of gracing the hallowed turf at Old Trafford as a member of the opposition for the first time.
“The stadium has a smell. The grass has a smell,” Dalot said.
“I was used to going to the other half of the pitch before the game. It was strange just to see the stadium from that perspective because I always looked from the Stretford End to the top. But I have to say it was a very good feeling [being back].
“I left something good there. I'm talking about the relationships I have with people. The proof is after seven or eight months we still have the connection and that's a very good feeling for me.”
It was strange just to see the stadium from that perspective because I always looked from the Stretford End to the top
- Diogo Dalot
One of the relationships cherished most during his time at Old Trafford was the friendship he quickly established with United’s latest Portuguese talisman, Bruno Fernandes.
Dalot played a pivotal role in helping the former Sporting man settle into his new life in Manchester, sharing car rides to United’s Carrington training ground with the 26-year-old playmaker.
The roles were reversed last winter when Fernandes helped convince Dalot to take on a new challenge in Serie A – a league he had played in himself during loan spells at Novara, Udinese and Sampdoria.
“Before I came we spoke a lot about Italian football,” Dalot explained.
“Bruno loved to be here. He spoke very well about how they play and it was a big push for me when I told him I could come to Milan and he said what a fantastic club it is, historically speaking.”
Dalot’s versatility has helped make him a key part of Milan manager Stefano Pioli’s plans; a right-sided full-back by trade, Dalot was taught through necessity to play on the left while coming through the ranks at Porto.
“I began playing on the left because we had a couple of right-backs and no fit left-backs. I felt comfortable,” he continued.
“I won't say I'm amazing with my left foot but I'm OK because my dad always told me to play with my left foot, pass with my left foot. Tactically it's different because the perception you have of the pitch is completely different.
“To give you an example, if the ball is on the other side you have to come into the middle and your body shape needs to be one way, while on the other side you need to be the other way.
“I absolutely love to do it because I want to be on the pitch playing.”
Despite still enjoying the early years of what he hopes will be a long playing career, Dalot already envisages himself emulating the elder statesmen in his sporting orbit.
Inspired by the recent form of his team-mate Zlatan Ibrahimovic, whose incredible goalscoring feats at 39 have prompted Sweden to successfully coax him out of international retirement, Dalot also watched 38-year-old Pepe flourish during Porto’s recent Champions League victory against Juventus.
“I didn't celebrate a Porto victory like that for a long time,” the graduate of Porto’s fabled youth academy said.
“He [Pepe] is from another world. There are a few players who get to that age and keep going another three or five years. It's something that comes from inside of them. They don't want to stop. They don't want to not be successful.
Milan v Man Utd
Watch the Europa League Round of 16 second leg exclusively live on BT Sport 2 HD and online from 7.15pm on Thursday 18 March.
“There are times at Milan when I see Zlatan and I ask myself, how is it possible that a 39-year-old guy has the same hunger as someone who's 20 or 21? He's won everything. He's done everything. It amazes me. If a guy is 39 and he's doing this every single day, why am I not going to do it?”
But there will be plenty of football to play before Dalot begins to think about hanging up his boots – not least tonight's second leg against the Red Devils.
A late goal from Milan defender Simon Kjaer changed the complexion of the tie in the dying moments at Old Trafford, as the Italian giants now welcome United to the San Siro with an away-goal advantage.
But Dalot will know that the Premier League outfit rarely roll over with the stakes so high.
Can he see off his parent club and help Milan book their place in the last eight of the Europa League? BT Sport is the only place to find out.
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