Newcastle United midfielder Sandro Tonali admits Tuesday’s Champions League clash at AC Milan will be 90% emotion as he returns to the San Siro for the first time since leaving the Italian club in July.
The 23-year-old Italy international arrived on Tyneside for a fee reported to be £55m, part of Newcastle’s squad strengthening ahead of their Champions League return after a 20-year absence.
While he admits it will be a strange feeling going back to the club he supports, he said it will not be a problem once the whistle goes to start the game.
"I think I’m going to feel the emotion tomorrow at 90%. Today it’s at 10%," Tonali told reporters on Monday. "I’ve met some people I’m familiar with at Milan and have been in touch with them.
"It’s hard emotions because they don’t happen all the time in football. They’re special and I’ll remember them forever. This is the team I support and the team that gave me a chance to succeed. Things have completely changed. I am here as a rival, I have to manage that but it won’t be a problem."
It will be more of a problem for his father who is a passionate Milan fan.
"I don’t know who he will support. I don’t want to be in his head but I think he will take care of me! I hope he will support me but it’s very difficult to change a supporter’s mind about their team," Tonali said.
"I think he will support Milan and support me. Maybe he will want a draw?"
Newcastle’s arrival in Milan for their opening Group F game was delayed as bad weather in Italy meant their plane could not take off on schedule.
Manager Eddie Howe shrugged off the inconvenience of their transport problems and said he was proud to be leading the club back into Europe’s elite -- a situation that had looked improbable until Newcastle were bought by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund two years ago.
"I’ve never even attended a Champions League game -- I’ve always been too busy working!" Howe, whose side face a daunting task to get out of the group with Paris St Germain and Borussia Dortmund also in store, told reporters.
"It will be a proud moment for everyone after so long away. We have to be at our best. We want to be very competitive. We want to show our style of play. First and foremost the competitive nature in our game has to be there."
Howe also paid tribute to Tonali who he says has settled in well to life in the Premier League.
"I really like him as a person. He’s serious towards his game, which I like. He’s a leader. Excited for what he can be for us -- both now and the future," Howe said.
Tonali was greeted enthusiastically by the Italian media who were eager to quiz him on his move.
"I remember the transfer happened while the Under 21 Euros were on. Everything happened so quick. I was overwhelmed because I was playing for Italy," he said.
"I have found a wonderful team and a wonderful staff. They are ready to welcome anyone and I realised that Newcastle people love what they do. In these two months I’ve seen the whole team working non-stop, 24/7 at the training ground.