Zlatan Ibrahimovic has revealed exactly how his move to AC Milan happened, also confirming that he could have joined the club even earlier when he left Juventus.
Ibrahimovic announced his retirement from football at the end of last season and there has been plenty of speculation about what the future might hold for him, with a potential return to Milan mentioned by a number of sources.
Ibrahimovic spoke on stage at the Festival dello Sport which is having its sixth edition in Trento this weekend, and he was asked a number of different questions which were relayed by MilanNews.
What was baby Zlatan like?
“I made a lot of messes, like all children. I was always around playing football. I was always with the ball, wherever I went I took it with me and played football, even if everyone told me I wasn’t talented. It was my energy, my adrenaline. Then I also did things that can’t be done, but you learn and grow.”
Are your origins still with you?
“You become more mature, you have more experience. Now I have two children. But your identity is always the same. But you do it with elegance and in a different way.”
What was it like being compared to Van Basten at Ajax?
“At the beginning it was very difficult, everyone expected me to be the new van Basten. But I wasn’t at that level yet, it was my first adventure outside Sweden. I was alone with a lot of pressure, it was a record transfer, they expected magic every day.
“But I wasn’t ready, that comparison weighed on me and it wasn’t easy. It almost made me go back to Sweden. But I never gave up, I always had faith in myself.
“But in some situations it doesn’t just depend on you, but little by little, especially mentally, I became stronger. The second year went better, the third year I baptised everyone.”
What was your relationship with Mino Raiola like?
“My career began with him. It was my third year at Ajax. As soon as I met Mino I became arrogant, and so did he. After a while I gave up, because I really needed Mino. And after three months he took me to Juventus.
“The first meeting? We were at the sushi place. I arrive with a nice car, a nice watch, a nice jacket. I go in with Mino, he places an order as if there were 8 of us. He says to me: ‘I’ll take care of it, don’t worry’.
“We talk about many things and he takes out some papers for me, with the goals and statistics of the other attackers: Vieri, Sheva, Inzaghi. They had different statistics from Ibracadabra. My statistics were: 20 games, 5 goals.
“‘With these statistics where do I take you’, he told me. I told him that with other statistics my mother also sold me, that’s why I needed him to perform the miracle. I met a fantastic person, he became like a father and a friend, an advisor, everything.
“What I went through, I went through with him. I talked to him every day. We have grown together in our careers. We became strong together, he became stronger than everyone in his category and I in mine.
“Then another thing about that lunch. He asks me: ‘Can you become the richest or the strongest in the world?’. I answer: ‘The strongest’. Him: ‘Well done, the strongest become the richest’. This was Mino.
“I was with Mino almost every day in his last period of life. It wasn’t easy, when you see a person in difficulty it’s difficult. There was a lot of emotion. I wanted to take away the constant thought of the illness, I brought him energy and positivity instead of talking about his illness.
“He always thought of others and not of himself. He was always behind the players, they always came first and then him. And it has been like this in recent months too. He put me before everyone and not himself. He told me to do what made me happy. He was very strong, he was strong.”
What was Fabio Capello like?
“He told me he was putting me in order by getting all of Ajax out of me. He wanted me to be more concrete and direct on the pitch, the best way for a striker to help the team was to score goals.
“Every day we did work up front at the door. I was behind Thuram and Cannavaro, but instead he always saw me. We worked like this for six months. He also compared me to Van Basten. He said that technically I was better than him, but his movements in the box were better. From there it all started.
“Trezeguet was intelligent, he told me that I could take the ball across the field, do what I wanted, and he would wait for me in front. At the beginning in Italy there was a lot of adrenaline, I wanted to show who I was. I noticed that I lacked the goals, while Trezeguet always scored.
“Then I understood what the attacker’s mentality must be in Italy: you have to score goals. In Italy here you have to play well and score goals. So I said to Trezeguet: ‘I’ll wait for you up front now too’ (laughs).”
After Juventus you could have joined Milan over Inter…
“Mino spoke to both of them. We were closer to Milan, then they had to play a qualifier round for the Champions League and they asked me to wait to understand the situation.
“At that moment Inter he understood and acted quickly: they closed the deal before Milan. Mino said that the first one to arrive signed. And Inter got there first.”
You met Balotelli there…
“When a kid has the opportunity to exploit his talent… He has had many opportunities, he hasn’t taken even one. There are many who only want to have one opportunity, he has missed all the opportunities that he had.”
After Leao’s missed back heel in the Champions League…
“No no, you can’t even compare it. If he scores a goal there he’s a genius. Only geniuses understand what they have to do there. That’s why he’s there and Balotelli is in the stands.”
Your greatest chance to win the Champions League?
“Barca were too strong and dominant, at least they made the semi-final. It was the greatest opportunity. But all the clubs I played for potentially could have won the Champions League.”
My coach is too tactical, what do I do?
“You have to follow but you don’t have to follow. We can learn tactics later, you can’t learn the basics of football later: you learn them when you’re young. Tactics can be learned later, it’s not important.”
How did the move to Milan come about?
“It wasn’t an easy moment for me, the coach wanted to sell me at all costs. Then Gamper arrived against Milan, Milan spoke with Mino to understand what to do. When they came to Barcelona, we were in the tunnel before entering the pitch.
“All the Milan players said: ‘After the match you come back with us’. Nesta, Pirlo, Ronaldinho, they all said: ‘You come back with us’. After the match Dinho arrived in the changing rooms, I he took my hand and said: ‘Come on, let’s go home’.
“In these situations I didn’t want to make Helena anxious. In football there are many words, Galliani instead came to our house. Helena didn’t know who he was, he told me asked who he is. ‘He’s the big boss of Milan’.
‘And what does he want?’, ‘He wants us to go to Milan’. And she said: ‘And what are we waiting for then?’. And in the end they found an agreement with Barcelona. In the evening we went to dinner, Galliani took out his credit card but it didn’t work. It was after my transfer. So I said: ‘Is it finished yet? I’ll pay’ (laughs).”
What was Berlusconi like?
“I had a good relationship with Berlusconi, he has an aura. When he enters a room even if you don’t see him you understand that there is something. I respect him a lot.
“He has charisma. He was mister Milan. Since he took over Milan Milan became football, it changed the history of football and Milan. He brought me happiness back after the difficult times in Barcelona. It’s thanks to him that I went to Milan.
“Then from there a relationship grew and we often talked about many things. He told me how I should play, move. He stimulated me as a person and as a footballer.”
Then you moved from Milan to PSG…
“It was difficult, this first trip to Milan had given me happiness again. I didn’t want to move from Milan. Before going on holiday, I know how it works before the summer, you get calls, I said to Galliani: ‘Please can I see you for 5 minutes’. He said yes.
“I said to him: ‘Please promise me you won’t sell me? I don’t want to leave Milan, I’m happy and the family is fine’. ‘Okay, don’t worry’. After three weeks, I was on holiday, Mino calls me. I don’t answer. In an hour, 10 missed calls.
“I understood that there was something wrong. I replied to Mino: ‘I don’t want to leave anywhere’. He: ‘It’s all already done at PSG’. ‘PSG? No no, I’m fine at Milan’. They sold me and Thiago Silva in a package, he already had an agreement.
“Before going to a club you imagine what you look like in that shirt, how you score goals in that stadium. Then I spoke with Leonardo: ‘We play away from home in a stadium for 2,000 people, I don’t get the adrenaline’.
“He told me that some matches would be like this. There isn’t much to say about Paris. In the end I say yes, but I put some clauses in the contract to make people think I was stupid and not let me sign.
“After 20 minutes they tell me ok. So I stand by my word and I signed. After these requests in the contract Mino says to me: ‘But you also want a bicycle in the contract’. I said yes. And I had the bike (laughs).”
Then came an adventure in England…
“I went to England at 35. I wanted a change after four years at PSG. Everyone was talking about United because Mou was going there. He called me, I said yes.
“United is one of the top five clubs in the world. I asked advice to others, all the players told me: ‘If you do badly then you put your career at stake, all the past is erased’. I called 5 players, 5 nos. 5 nos and one yes, mine.
“I go to England. When the situation is like this I get even more charged. I prefer to walk on fire rather than water, only I can do it (laughs). All those no’s stimulated me even more.
“In England so many hated me, who said I never scored goals against English teams, I was arrogant. After three months they all became my fans.”
The last Scudetto with Milan, the best of all. You gave everything…
“It was the title from which I had the most satisfaction. It was a situation where the team was not favourites, not even top four. They were players who were not superstars. It was not a team in which I was used to playing: I played always in favoured teams.
“In this Milan, however, it was the opposite. Then it wasn’t clear if they would be sold or not, if a new manager or a new coach arrived, then COVID… We were always united. We said we would take steps to step, one day at a time.
“Then those who were mentally ready to make the sacrifice stayed, those who weren’t ready left. Then little by little this group was formed, I’ve never had such a strong collective group. An atmosphere.. It was too strong.
“We weren’t phenomena, just me come on (laughs). They weren’t superstars, but everyone used the situation to grow and make the partner alongside them grow. The year we played without fans helped us to grow without pressure.
“We had more time to get to the top. Then when we got to the top they brought back the crowd which gave us an extra boost. It was a group that grew stronger with each passing day. They said we were lucky, blah blah blah, but in the end we closed.
“And when you do a great thing you see it and feel it in others. After the match against Sassuolo we went into the locker room and I went to the shower. Two-three people were crying, the staff was crying. From there you understand what you have done.
“It was something no one believed in. When I returned I said in the first conference that I would bring Milan back to winning: at that moment I realised that I had succeeded.
“The satisfaction was different. I was asking how many had played in the Champions League. Nobody raised their hand, the same when I asked who had won a trophy. That year we felt we could win.
“I had a serious injury, but I remained close to the team. When you see when we celebrated in the centre… Tomori was there who had won with Chelsea, I told him that winning here would be something else. He told me I was totally right, this remains in history forever.”
Sandro Tonali was one of the players who grew…
“He came from Brescia. It was his dream to arrive at Milan. The first year he was too much of a fan. I told him: ‘Enough, you’re no longer a fan, you’re one of us. Here we don’t need the fans, we need to make the fans happy’.
“Then in the second year he broke free and was flying, he was too important for us. Already at Brescia we could see that he was strong. Many don’t understand that playing in a top club is a difference too great. Another pressure, another mentality, other objectives.
“When a player doesn’t perform at his best, it doesn’t mean that he has lost talent, but that time is needed. Then it also depends on us team-mates, we too have to help make him feel good and use his qualities.
“The managers have seen one thing, in a team there is a coach and teammates: everything goes together. It’s a collective sport, not an individual one.”
Is Zlatan or Leao better?
“Zlatan, but Zlatan created Leao (laughs).”
Were you surprised to see Maldini leave Milan?
“I have a good relationship with Paolo from the first day I arrived. He was a manager, I played against him on the pitch. From the first day I got to know the person. He was growing as a manager, it was his first experience.
“It wasn’t an easy situation, It wasn’t clear how things were. He brought nothing of these things to the team. He was always present every day at Milanello. He communicated with Mister Pioli, with the players. He was present every day.
“I don’t know the details for the transfer market, if there were limited budgets. It was his problem, my problem was on the pitch. He did a great job, we won. When you manage to win it’s a collective thing, everyone has their own responsibilities to get there.
“It’s not a one man show. I’m sorry what happened, he’s a Milan bandiera. Dad, him, son. I’m sorry. But I know that things can change in football. I’m happy for him for what he did for Milan, as a player and as a manager.”
Have you made a decision on your future?
“How long has it been since I retired? 3-4 months? I have a totally different freedom. I’m doing things for myself. I don’t have a boss telling me what to do or what to follow. I’m taking time to figure out what I want to do.
“There are more hourly offers than when I played. If I enter something I want to make a difference by being myself. I don’t want to enter a situation as a symbol. I enter, start from scratch and do what I can do.
“Then obviously, there is also your image as a character. Let’s see what happens, something happens. I had a few meetings with Milan. The boss, the other boss. Let’s talk. Let’s see where we get. It’s time to get to know each other.
“Then if one can bring something has an effect, if he can’t bring it it doesn’t have an effect. If they give me the contract to continue playing it has an effect. I’m joking (laughs). Let’s see.”