AC Milan are looking forward to the return of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who could be another decisive player in the quest to defend the Scudetto and go further in the Champions League.
Ibrahimovic has been missing since the end of the 2021-22 season when he chose to undergo surgery on his knee, thus ruling him out until the beginning of next year. Many believed that could spell the end of his playing days, but he instead signed a new deal and has repeatedly stressed a determination to get back on the field.
Milan might not have the Swede out there on the pitch at the moment, but he continues to make his presence felt in other way. Zlatan imparted a fearless mentality onto a young squad that have long since learned to walk on their own legs since his return to the club.
Ibra got his team-mates to channel the belief and mentality that he helped impart in situations where he is not able to get out there himself. Other experienced players like Kjaer, Florenzi and Giroud certainly helped too, but the charisma of Zlatan is unique.
He also assisted Pioli in the management of the squad, of course with total respect for his authority as head coach. Ibrahimovic has also used the chance ‘welcome’ the new signings by helping them to integrate and he still participates in the same group activities such as eating with the team and the meetings with coaches.
When he comes back, Ibra wants to tick off some records. Firstly, only two players have scored a goal in Serie A at an older age than Zlatan, whose last goal came at 40 years and 98 days on January 9th. Alessandro Costacurta netted against Udinese at 41 years and 25 days and Silvio Piola scored at 40 years and 131 days. Ibrahimovic will turn 41 on October 3rd, so if the Swede scores on his return he will take the record.
Costacurta also holds the title of being the oldest player ever to appear in the Champions League at 40 years and 211 days, so if Milan get through the group stages then Ibra will almost certainly take this title too.
If he were to score, Ibra would take the record of oldest UCL goal scorer from Francesco Totti, who bagged at 38 years and 59 days against CSKA Moscow. Nobody older than Filippo Inzaghi (37 years and 86 days) has scored a brace when he bagged twice against Real Madrid in 2010.
You shouldn’t just take our word for it though regarding Ibrahimovic’s importance, as Rafael Leao – who has often called the Swede his ‘big brother’ – said it himself a few days ago.
“The first two years at Milan were difficult, I came from France, where everything was smaller and life was very different. When you arrive at Milan you know that you have to be a winner, that many legends have worn the same shirt as you, winning many trophies,” he said.
“You feel and experience it immediately. After a transition process, I became another person and another player. During this period my family, Mr. Pioli and Ibra, who I keep close to every day, were fundamental.
“Zlatan is an example, he taught me the importance of asking, of always staying focused, even outside the pitch. We speak whenever we can, not as professionals or colleagues, but as men.”
Pierre Kalulu also spoke in the last week about what it is like to be in the dressing room Zlatan Ibrahimović: “At the beginning he is impressive because I used to play using him, but on the PlayStation. But then you realise that if he is still at these levels it is because he works hard every day. He passed on this need that helps us even when he’s not on the pitch.”
Simply put, Ibrahimovic drives the levels up of those around him because of the example he sets through his own determination. Getting him back will be a huge boost.