Striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic has given a revealing interview to il Corriere dello Sport about his time at AC Milan so far and his judgements on team-mates.
There is no doubting the impact that the Swede has had since he secured his return just over a year ago, as the team were fighting to stay in the top half when he arrived whereas now they are top of Serie A by three points.
Ibrahimovic has been a big factor in that, helping to nurture the younger players by instilling them with the right mentality and ensuring they can win even in his absence.
He explained what it is like to be the leader of the team, before giving his thoughts on a number of young players currently at the club.
“I offered a Playstation to all my team-mates. To those who immediately replied that they wanted one, I gave it to the others, I said too late,” he said (via MilanLive).
“So I realised what people I had in front of me. I am almost 40 years old now, on the pitch I do fewer things but more useful. Many stop earlier, but those who are intelligent adapt and continue.”
He offered judgements on some of the young players he is surrounded by, starting with Gianluigi Donnarumma.
“He is the best goalkeeper in the world, but I won’t tell him. He must always be hungry, it’s incredible that someone like him hasn’t played a minute in the Champions League yet.”
On Kalulu: “I told him to take off his gloves when he debuted. What fear can a defender with gloves inspire? I like defenders who accept tough duels, like they used to. Maldini stimulated me a lot. Today he says he was less strong once, but he didn’t win all the duels. I love Chiellini, an animal that keeps chasing you.”
On Roback: “I need to understand if it is possible to build another type of player. In Sweden there are no Ibrahimovics. Well, one who doesn’t seem Swedish exists: Emil Roback. Physical, speed, technique, movements. In fact, Milan have signed him. I think he will enter the first team on a permanent basis.”
On his relationship with Pioli: “He coaches, I play. He asks me to do things, I execute. A good balance. Last year he was in doubt whether he would stay at Milan the next day, another coach would leave. He, on the other hand, has always continued to work, with the mentality of a great coach.”
Speaking of uncertainty, there were reports earlier in the year that Ibrahimovic had a frank discussion with CEO Ivan Gazidis in front of the team when rumours were swirling that Ralf Rangnick would be replacing Pioli as head coach.
“We asked for answers, there were no certainties about our future. Then, with Pioli’s confirmation, everything changed. Trust has never left us. But I want to talk about the present and the future please.”