Sandro Tonali will continue tribute to childhood idol by wearing number 8 shirt at Newcastle
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Sandro Tonali will continue his career-long tribute to childhood Gennaro Gattuso when he walks out at St James' Park this season.
Newcastle confirmed their squad numbers for the upcoming 2023/24 campaign on Friday, with new signing Tonali being handed a squad number that has special meaning.
The 23-year-old midfielder, who joined the Magpies from AC Milan this summer for £55 million, has been handed the number eight shirt ahead of the club's Premier League opener against Aston Villa on August 12.
But why? Back in 2020, ahead of his move to Milan from boyhood club Brescia, he asked Gennaro Gattuso – a player he grew up idolising – for permission to use his iconic number.
Gattuso, who famously wore the number eight for 13 seasons during his memorable 13-year stay at the San Siro, agreed and the rest is history.
In fact, Gattuso and Tonali have since built an incredible friendship, with the latter explaining their bond during an interview with UEFA.
"What impact has Gattuso had on my career? We met a few times and on each occasion he explained many things about himself, about football, he also gave me a lot of advice that will make a difference in the future," he said.
"We have a good relationship, almost a friendship because it's not a normal relationship. He scolds me even when he has to, he can be tough because he wants the best from everyone, we all know how he is.
"If he has a goal, he wants to reach it at any cost, giving all he can. He is a special person, a good person, a pure person, he helps you in a thousand different ways.
"He gave everything he could, from start to finish, without ever giving up, his grit was recognised by everyone. He could run non-stop, he played even when he was injured, he could play in a thousand different ways."
Tonali added: "He was always there, he always ran, he put his heart into everything he did. I'm happy to have met such a person, I'm happy to have met my idol and I was able to talk to him often.
"I think he was a great champion and he showed it on the pitch. There's time for me to prove it, getting close to him would be incredible."
In the past, the Newcastle midfielder has been compared to Andrea Pirlo, who was also a product of Brescia's academy. But he's always played down those suggestions.
"It's difficult to answer this, on the pitch I'm a little more like Gattuso," Tonali explained after making his italy debut against Liechtenstein in 2019.
"Ideally, I want to be a mixture of all three [De Rossi, Gattuso and Pirlo]. For the fight I put in on the pitch, that's more like Gattuso."