AC Milan said an emotional goodbye to Zlatan Ibrahimovic after Sunday’s win against Hellas Verona, and now is the time to reflect on what he brought to the team.
La Gazzetta dello Sport writes how the new leader of this Milan side is Rafael Leao, and since his return Ibrahimovic put the winger under his wing and helped him grow with his advice and protection.
Zlatan focused on his qualities, seeing in him some potential to be refined and encouraging him day by day: “When he does well, he slaughters, a total massacre. He doesn’t have to settle. Too easy to compliment when things go great, or tell him he’s bad when things go wrong. With him I play the opposite game.”
In February, after his return to the field against Atalanta, the Swede also joked in an interview with DAZN about the long negotiation for Leao’s renewal.
“I lowered my salary to allow the club to move forward, I’m already playing for free for him,” he said. Leao scored a brace on the evening of Ibra’s farewell, running over to hug him after his first goal.
Then there is Sandro Tonali, whose tears were another snapshot of that night at San Siro, the reaction of a team-mate and a fan.
“We only found out yesterday, some the day before yesterday. It wasn’t easy to prepare mentally, we had to think about the match. Then we let ourselves go. I saw so many people crying, they are images which I will look at because they have a certain effect,” he said after the game.
Tonali arrived at Milan in the summer of 2020 and spent most of the first season studying and learning. After a first year apprenticeship, he became a leader scoring crucial goals in the eventual Scudetto win.
When he scored the last-minute winner at the Stadio Olimpico against Lazio, the assist came from Ibrahimovic’s head. A perfect connection, one clearly felt strongly on and off the pitch by Sandro.
The paper also mentions Pierre Kalulu, and recalls how back in December 2020 before his debut against Sparta Praha he got a bit of a telling off from the Swede.
“He said it was cold, but I told him to take off his gloves. Anyone who makes his debut so young must scare his opponents, the first image is what counts for him,” he said.
The Frenchman took note and month after month he was increasingly important for Pioli, becoming a real pillar in the league title win of 2021-22.
Some time later he told Telefoot everything: “Ibra is fundamental, he’s also the one who brought us here. Although he didn’t play much in the second half of the season, he helped us. You feel fear in your opponent when enter the field.”
It doesn’t stop there either, as Alexis Saelemaekers, Brahim Diaz, Ismael Bennacer and others have felt Ibrahimovic’s guiding hand.
Bennacer’s message on social media says it all: “Thank you for everything. Milan will miss you, football will miss you.” The Algerian is another one with whom the Swede has a special relationship, witnessed by Zlatan after he became the oldest scorer in Serie A history.
“Ismael came to my room today and told me he wanted me to be captain. I told him okay, I’ll take this pressure off you,” Zlatan revealed.
Speaking of the captain’s armband, Calabria is one of Ibra’s children. With the 41-year-old, the defender grew above all in self-esteem and confidence.
In July he spoke to DAZN about it: “I hope he can return as soon as possible. He gave us a big hand in the dressing room, he helped all the younger players to perform as we are now on the pitch.”
Saelemaekers and Diaz are also added to this list. Last summer, the Spaniard’s speech revealed a lot: “Ibrahimovic is my father’s age, but he still makes a difference. For me he’s like a father in the dressing room, he’s made my life easier because when I have the ball I have to pass it to him, otherwise he’ll get angry.”
Brahim will return to Real Madrid, but will always be grateful to Zlatan for what he gave. Now, Ibra’s ‘children’ are ready to walk on their own.