Nigerian full-back Taye Taiwo says he's happy to have won over the AC Milan fans following a start to his career in Italy marked by harsh criticism for his defensive capabilities. The 26-year-old was much derided for his early performances for i Rossoneri since his move to Serie A.
However he was afforded a round of applause on Wednesday in the UEFA Champions League against BATE Borisov, his first full game for the club, after hitting a speculative volley from 30 yards out at an angle that flew wide but was nonetheless hit sweetly.
"That was an incredible feeling. The fact is here in Italy you're all crazy about football and that's why you like to see a player who plays with spirit and runs up and down," he told La Gazzetta dello Sport. "They gave me an extra shove and you could see that in the second half, couldn't you?"
Taiwo, however, acknowledges that he must improve on his defence, something his coach Massimiliano Allegri has not been slow to point out. "He's right, I'm better at attacking than defending. Most of all he asks me to work hard and move off the ball," added Taiwo. "He does well because he corrects each individual player's mistakes."
Having started out his career as a second striker, Taiwo was converted to a full-back at Marseille, where he spent six years before joining Milan on a free transfer in the summer. And he has been impressed with football in Italy in his two months here.
"Maybe you don't realise it but your football is the most difficult in Europe," he told the Italian newspaper. "It's full of tactics, to score a goal you have to work ten times harder than the rest of Europe. In France football is more physical but it's easier and in Spain it's also easier. They're quick to laud (Lionel) Messi who scores five goals a game but I'd like to see how he would get on in Italy."
Meanwhile coach Massimiliano Allegri has set his players a target of four straight wins to climb up the table ahead of the next international break. And Allegri believes they even have a chance of topping the table in a month's time if they do manage to achieve that goal.
But that doesn't mean he is taking Lecce lightly, especially given that Milan have yet to win on their travels this season. "It's a difficult trip, it's ten years since Milan last won at Lecce but now is the time to start picking up points," said the coach. "Tomorrow (Sunday) we need to be aware of the importance of the game while having a lot of respect for Lecce, who have also played well in defeat.
"In Italy all the games are difficult and it depends on how we play. The standings help us to prepare better because we have great motivation to try to arrive at the international break in a better position than we're in now. We have to try to improve our position in a very tight league. We have three less points than we had at the same stage last year but before the break we can pick up some positions."