Ibrahimovic sends clear message to Leao and praises Giroud, De Ketelaere and Pioli

By Oliver Fisher -

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has given another fascinating interview as part of the mid-season training retreat in Dubai, during which he spoke about Rafael Leao, Charles De Ketelaere, Romelu Lukaku and others.

Ibrahimovic sat down with La Gazzetta dello Sport for what is another very entertaining interview from the Swede where he certainly holds little back, and we have translated his comments below.

The paper state how Ibra entered the room in a black and red tracksuit in front of dozens of cameras and smartphones, with journalists from Italy and all the main UAE newspapers there, to which the 41-year-old opened with: ‘What tension, relax! Today Ibra speaks. Italian, English, even Arabic if you want’.

It started with the most obvious question, when does he expect to return to play? “

I’m fine, I’m improving day by day, I follow the protocol we’ve given ourselves. Milan are missing Ibra but the opposite is also true: Ibra is missing Milan. From the outside it’s not the same: I’m close to the team in terms of motivation, responsibility and pressure. I live the match with adrenaline, but I remain used to being on the pitch.”

Will he be ready for the Super Cup on January 18 or later, perhaps at his best for the Champions League game against Spurs in mid-February?

“There is no established calendar for the return: I am an expert in injury management, I would be wrong to set a precise date. If it were up to desire, I would have been a starter in the first part of the season. But I don’t think like this anymore: when ready, I’ll play.

“I can’t go on the pitch just because my name is Ibrahimovic and maybe spend a game walking, otherwise I’m better on the bench or in the stands.”

Ibra on the bench: is he sure?

“Of course, I no longer have the ego of ten years ago. Today I am different, more mature, more responsible: I make myself available to the younger players and to the coach, he decides. I no longer think I can do everything by myself: I respect every choice, even if he doesn’t reward me.”

A new spirit, but always the same Zlatan: why didn’t he retire after lifting the Scudetto?

“Because I still feel the adrenaline, the emotion of the public, the smell of the pitch. And because I’m not satisfied, I always want to do more. So I feel alive. I chose to have surgery not only to be able to continue playing but also to feel good: in the last six months of last season I suffered a lot, in silence. I didn’t want to say it so as not to bring negativity to the team.”

What are his new target?

“All. If I’m here it’s because I believe in it. Serie A, Italian Cup, Super Cup, Champions League: we want it all. Giving up one goal means giving up all of them. And our mentality is no longer this.”

Do you really target the Champions League? 

“I have no dreams, only goals. Let’s leave the dreams to others: we do. Everything is possible, football teaches it. Things happen that you never expected. Look at Morocco at the World Cup: indeed no, Zlatan had said that Morocco was strong and that Amrabat was really good.

“Milan have a very, very strong collective. Other teams, and we saw it against Chelsea, perhaps have more individuality and certainly more experience. Our strength is the group. We believe in it, we work for this: we are more mature, more aware, we have more players who can make a difference today. And whoever was there last year now knows what it takes to win.”

Does the same apply to the possible Scudetto comeback?

“Obviously. At the moment we are second, at the moment. Napoli are strong, Kvaratskhelia the player who impressed me the most. But Juve are also returning and Inter is in the running. But we are here.

“In addition, this year is too particular with the winter break and the World Cup played in the middle: it will be a more conditional and less quality season. And from my long experience of winning the Scudetto, I know that the second half of the season is always decisive.”

Is the main difference between Milan two and a half years ago and the current side in the mind?

“My first day of January 2020 was all different. It didn’t seem like a team that wanted to aspire to the Scudetto or that was inclined to do what they then did. Today they is hungry, desire, spirit of sacrifice. And one goal: to win.

“Then there were many individuals, now there is a group. And Pioli was very good at getting everyone to follow him: his ideas turned out to be successful, his work credible and convincing.”

Going back to the starting point, will Ibra be ready for the Supercoppa against Lukaku or for the Champions League to try and be the oldest scorer in the history of the competition?

“I hope to be on the field against Inter but who knows. Lukaku? Nothing to say to him, I hope he is well and that he can be there. The same wish I make myself. For the rest, I think of myself, not of the others: they must be afraid. And the Champions League record doesn’t interest me. I’m only interested in scoring.”

A companion of Ibra’s is doing brilliantly, did he pass on the secret of his youth to Giroud?

“Actually he will never say it but I am his idol… Olivier is great, he is fundamental for us. He was very important last year, when I wasn’t there, and he’s decisive again this year. And just as he does well with Milan, the same happens with France.

“He is a fantastic person, serious, elegant. And an excellent professional. He is another who has his goals very clear: he knows that he can still be decisive, and he goes on. If he weren’t more convinced, he’d take a step back.”

Leao must take steps forward: do you advise him to stay at Milan?

“Of course, Milan is the right environment for him. Just observe his growth: when he arrived he was far from the decisive player he is today. Here he is very important to us, would he be just as important elsewhere?

“He would have to start from scratch, you can’t be sure you’re ready right away. At Milan he has confidence, space and freedom, something that is not taken for granted in another club: it depends on you. And then you see that here he is happy: now he laughs even before scoring.”

Can he reach the levels of Ibra?

“He is the young man who has grown the most. Theo has improved a lot, De Ketelaere is strong and patience is needed. But Leao is on another level, above average. He is missing a step: he will only do it when he is fully convinced of his abilities. Today not even he really knows how strong he is. Then he will be really scary. And the price will go up… (he laughs).”

Do you say something to stimulate him?

“He doesn’t have to be satisfied with what he is doing. It’s too easy to compliment when things go great, or tell him you’re bad when they go bad: with him I play the opposite game. But I talk to everyone, it depends on the moment and remains secret… I don’t have a script prepared: Pioli knows it, he stays in his locker room and gives me a few minutes to talk to my teammates, so I let off steam!”

Ibra, will you also have a coaching room of your own in the future?

“Why am I not already a coach today? Seriously, I’m not thinking about it now. Coaching is a big responsibility. And having been great players does not automatically guarantee that you will become great coaches. It wasn’t for Zidane or Guardiola and it wouldn’t be for Ibrahimovic. There are no advantages, study and work are needed, step by step.”

Tags AC Milan Zlatan Ibrahimovic
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