A year ago, Zlatan Ibrahimovic played for the first time since his return to Milan to score a great goal against Cagliari, and this goal responded to critics of the Italian club’s decision to re-sign the veteran Swedish striker in January 2020.
This criticism was understandable at the time, as Ibrahimovic was 38 years old, and had been away from European competitions since March 2018 after he traveled to the United States to play in the league there with the Los Angeles Galaxy.
But the enormous footprint that Ibrahimovic left on Milan over the past year is a success story in itself, and fans celebrated his return to matches on Saturday, after a two-month absence due to an injury, and received him with a standing ovation.
After he scored in his first starting appearance on January 11, 2020, Ibrahimovic said, “The coach deals cautiously with a player of my age, but I do not find any problem, as my mind is still in his entire youth and my body follows him.”
Coach Stefano Pioli did not feel any worries, and the Swedish player’s performance has improved since his return to Italy for the first time since his departure to Paris Saint-Germain in 2012.
With his goal in Cagliari, Ibrahimovic has scored in 4 different decades in the first division championships.
Ibrahimovic scored another 10 goals before the end of last season, to become the oldest player to score a double in a single season in the Italian League, at the age of 38 years and 302 days.
At the time, the Swedish star likened himself to Benjamin Button, telling his team’s TV channel, “People tell me that I am old and exhausted, but I am only in the warm-up phase.”
“I’m like Bouton, but I was always young and never aged,” he added.
Ibrahimovic refers to the main character in the 2008 Oscar-winning movie, in which the life of the hero who was born old goes backwards, but becomes younger and stronger as he gets older.
— Get Italian Football News (@_GIFN) January 9, 2021
The Swedish striker was also widely praised for passing on his expertise to younger generations, helping one of the youngest squads in Italy to develop mentally.
Milan’s last result before Ibrahimovic’s arrival was a humiliating 0-5 loss against Atlanta. However, since then the team has lost three of its last 38 league matches.
The struggle for the title
Milan’s development, with Pioli at the helm of coaching and Ibrahimovic on the stadium, pushed the fans to dream of competing for the title.
Ibrahimovic started the season in great shape and scored 10 goals in 7 league matches before suffering a hamstring injury against Napoli in November, dealing a blow to Milan’s hopes this season.
But the maturity and sophistication the team witnessed saw them win 7 of the 11 games in all competitions in Ibrahimovic’s absence, although his impressive record unbeaten in 27 league matches ended with Juventus last week.
Ibrahimovic returned to the competition on Saturday, and participated as a substitute in the 2-0 victory over Turin, extending the difference that separates him in the lead from the closest pursuers to 3 points.
After a great start to the season, Milan are looking to end their 10-year wait for the title title. And the last time he won the title, Ibrahimovi was his top scorer.
After 10 years, and after scoring 22 goals in nearly a year, the Swedish player raised the club’s ambitions once again towards the absent titles.