Roberto Donadoni says Rangers’ new signing, Filip Helander, will be perfect for Scottish football because the rougher things get, the better he becomes.
The former manager of Italy was Helander’s boss for two years at Bologna, first signing him on loan for a season from Hellas Verona, then making the deal permanent when the big Swedish central defender won him over.
Donadoni insists Helander is a player he would always want in his team.
“I am sure Filip will do very well in Scotland,” he said of the Light Blues’ £3.5-million transfer.
“Having been his coach for two seasons while at Bologna, I can say without fear of contradiction that he is a truly exceptional boy.
“He is very serious about being a footballer, an exemplary professional who always aims to improve.
“Filip is one of those players all coaches would like to have in their team. Certainly I would.”
In his playing days, Donadoni was a winger both for the all-conquering Milan side that won the European Cup three times – in 1989, 1990 and 1994 – and his national team.
He won a total of 63 caps and reached the 1994 World Cup Final.
As a manager, though, the 55-year-old learned to love the defensive side of the sport, an appreciation which knows the worth of having talent such as Helander around.
“From a technical and tactical perspective, we are talking about a strong, tall, left-footed defender, who is very good in central defence,” he said.
“Yet he also has the flexibility to play in any of the other positions in the back line.
“At 26, he is at a good age because he has valuable experience – most especially with the Sweden national team – yet is still able to keep improving as a player.
“He is intelligent, too, because he has used his natural advantages to be effective in the air.
“That allows him to dominate crosses in defence and be a threat at the other end of the pitch, when the opportunity arises.
“I would be surprised if he didn’t score a few goals in Scotland.”
While contributing goals is likely to endear the Swede to the Rangers support, it is his liking for a battle which, Donadoni believes, has the potential to turn him into an Ibrox cult hero.
That is something he will surely find in the Old Firm derbies as his new employers bid to prevent Celtic making it nine-in-a-row in the season ahead.
“What I really like about Filip is his winning mentality,” the Italian continued.
“He is not afraid of physical confrontation at all. In fact, my experience is that it is a side of the game he relishes.
“When matches go that way, his qualities and his determination shine through. He never backs down.
“So I think he will be really well suited to the British game, which, for me, can be more muscular than the football we see in some areas of Europe.
“From what I know of Scottish football, that will be particularly be the case.”
Not that the former Bologna boss believes Helander is taking a backward step by agreeing to become Steven Gerrard’s eighth signing of the summer, joining a list which already contained Joe Aribo, George Edmundsen, Sheyi Ojo, Jake Hastie, Steven Davis, Jordan Jones and Greg Stewart.
“Rangers are one of the great names of football,” stated Donadoni.
“And, as Filip’s former coach, it will be really nice for me to see him wear the famous jersey and play in front of the huge crowds in Glasgow.
“He is genuinely someone I really wish will have a successful career in front of him.
“This is a big move for him, every bit as significant as the one he took four years ago when first moving to Italy from his home in Sweden.
“It is one I think will work out well for both parties, and I look forward to seeing him play for Rangers in the weeks and months ahead.
“Exactly how well they will do I do not know.
“But, as I say, I do believe anyone who picks on Filip for physical confrontation will only be playing into his hands.”
Donadoni has been out of football management since parting company with Bologna. However, the thought of working with and developing players like Helander has him itching to get involved again.
“Having spent 17 years on this side of the sport, it is obviously a big part of my life,” he said.
“I love being at the pitchside and I love working with players to try to achieve positive results. So I hope to get back into it again.”
This season’s Serie A campaign will, he says, have extra spice thanks to the head-to-head clash of two former Chelsea bosses, Maurizio Sarri and Antonio Conte.
“Sarri will be a different type of manager to Massimiliano Allegri but the Juve board will have known this when they made their choice,” he said.
“Conte at Inter is a very interesting one. They are a club with the potential to challenge even Juve so we shall see.”