Zlatan Ibrahimović spoke at length to il Corriere dello Sport, discussing Gigio Donnarumma and Pierre Kalulu, as he only didn’t rule out a return to the national team of Sweden.
Ibrahimović has returned to action this week after missing several weeks through injuries and the Rossoneri are getting back their leader on the pitch.
Zlatan has played a great part in Milan’s successful 2020 and he will look to carry on his form and impact into 2021.
The 39-year-old sat down with il Corriere dello Sport’s Marco Evangelisti and you can find the fully-translated interview here below.
Zlatan Ibrahimović, what is a goal?
“A responsibility of mine. A detail. A detail that makes you win games. It’s not exclusive to me. Even when I assist a teammate who scores I feel that I’ve done my job well.”
When you arrived at Milan, you went from 12th to 6th and now you’re in 1st place. A team that has you on the pitch and does not win the title is a rarity. Let’s call it the Ibrahimović effect. Can you describe it?
“Today I feel like a leader. I lead, the team follows me. 10 years ago it was a different Milan. But the Milan I found in 2020 was also different. Always a very young squad. We’ve worked, we’ve sacrificed ourselves. Here are the results. It’s not only my merit.”
But comparing the line-ups, you see that the substantial novelty is you…
“I can’t judge what was there before me. We are doing great things, it’s true, like it’s true that we haven’t won anything. There is the desire to do more.”
Maybe when you gave your teammates a PlayStation you had the idea of eliminating other distractions?
“In reality I asked: ‘who wants it as a certain price?’ I gave it to those who were on the list, I gifted it to them; to the others I said ‘oh no, too late’. That way I understood who I was dealing with [laughs]. Now everyone listens to me, though.”
You also forced Kalulu to take off his gloves…
“Certainly. A young man who debuts as a defender and is wearing gloves – how does he look? He certainly doesn’t scare the opponent.”
And you know about defenders…
“I’ve always liked those who accept the hard and fair duel. And let’s remember that in the past there was no VAR. Maldini used to stimulate me. Now he says that at the time I wasn’t as strong as I am today, but if I remember correctly it’s not as if he won every duel against me. I like Chiellini, he’s an animal who keeps chasing you. That’s the right mentality.”
To Donnarumma, what do you say?
“He is the strongest goalkeeper in the world. But no, I don’t say anything to him. He has to continue to be hungry. It’s not normal that he’s never played a Champions League match.”
Well, it has been seven years since Milan played in the Champions League. At least the objective of the qualification can be promised?
“It’s early. How much is left? The whole second round plus two games. Besides, setting objectives is like setting limits. I never do it. Second is the first of the last. I want to get the best out of myself and the team, every day, training included.”
A Milan so long out of the elite is not normal…
“No. Neither for the club nor for the fans. With all due respect, I see Atalanta in the Champions League and Milan not and I came to change that. I don’t know what happened for seven years. It seems clear to me that if there is no stability in the club, there cannot be also on the pitch.”
It this why during the lockdown you argued with CEO Gazidis?
“Everyone at home, nothing was done, then we came back and the whole team was asking for certainties and received none. I went to look for them. Only with Pioli’s confirmation did the situation become clearer. We were stressed out. We felt we were on trial before we even did anything. The confidence, however, never left us. But let’s talk about the present and the future, please.”
Well, let’s talk about the relationship between Pioli and you: two people who on the surface could not be any more different…
“He coaches, I play. He asks me to do certain things and I execute. He trusts me and gives me instructions that I like. There’s a good balance of duties. I’m comfortable on and off the pitch. Last year he was in a situation of not knowing if he was going to work the next day or not. A different person would say goodbye saying ‘thanks, I am going where there is a tomorrow’. Instead, every day he sent messages of reassurances to the players. And he’s demonstrated to be a coach of a great team.”
Milan has grown with you, but also Serie A has increased its prestige. Ibra and Ronaldo together are practically enough to make a league…
“Each of us wants to give everything for our team and be the best. We’re not the ones to judge who that is.”
Now that you are here, Italy does not want to lose you. When will you decide on your future?
“As long as I’m well, I’ll go ahead. In June my contract expires and we’ll talk about it. I didn’t want to get trapped in situations without exists and neither did my club. That’s why upon arriving I signed for six months and then renewed. Others have reasoned differently, I am for freedom of choice.”
In the meantime, you’ve taken your kids to train at the Rossoneri Youth Center. Do you intend to bring your family to live in Milano?
“Let’s see, I do not exclude anything.”
What is it that still drives you forward? Defying age? Getting to a 1000 games? Winning the Champions League?
“I have no idea how many games I’ve played. I don’t recite numbers, they make me feel old. My challenge today is to make a young team mature, which is different from what I was used to. Being able to do that gives me even more joy than a win.”
You got to know the virus. How did you really experience those days beyond the bold messages on social media?
“When they announced I was positive I really didn’t know what to expect. I was reading and listening to everything without understanding. I was locked in the house talking to the walls, with the time passing very slowly, waiting to feel the symptoms. They came: one day a headache, another day a back pain. After a while I lost my sense of taste. I never had a fever. After 16 days I was told I was negative. I tried work out at home and I was immediately fatigued.”
Did it occur to you to become a coach streaming on Buddyfit?
“The younger generations are paying the most in this pandemic. They can’t go to school, they can’t play sports like they should. The years to come will be different for them. And if this continues, we cannot predict whether we will still want to go to the gym, to be close to each other like before.”
To avoid mistakes, you also entered Hammarby, a top-flight Swedish team…
“I have to understand if it’s possible to build a different type of player. In Sweden there is no Ibrahimović. And I wish there were. Well, one who doesn’t look Swedish exists: Emil Roback. Physicality, speed, technique and movements. In fact, Milan got him. I think he’ll enter the First Team permanently.”
This Zlatan who thinks of others seems very far from the one of his early years, your bad tempter, your intemperance…
“I am almost 40 years old. I don’t like to say it but it’s the truth. When I was young, I had great emotions. Now I have great experience. That’s also why I do fewer things on the pitch, but more useful. Many people stop when they reach 35. Those who are smart can adapt and continue.”
We know a lot of stories about your difficult and turbulent childhood. In what way is today’s Zlatan a symbol of that phase of your life?
“I know who I am and so do the people around me. I don’t care about what strangers say about me. I can’t escape the chatter of those who think they know me.”
Before returning to Milan, you fled to America and then fled from America. Why?
“In America I discovered that I’m a player who’s still alive after my injury. One year in Los Angeles just to figure out how I was doing. In the second one I went back to chasing objectives. So I thought: ‘Do I stop playing or do I continue?’ And my agent, Mino Raiola, said: ‘It is too easy to stop in America, try to do it in Europe’. I chose Milan because it was the most difficult challenge. I wasn’t interested in a pat hand, I was attracted by the impossible.”
Ibrahimović coach or director, in the future?
“I don’t make commitments of this kind. That of a coach seems to me a very stressful job, but who knows. Today I like being on the pitch too much.”
Yet there are those who argue that the games goes from bad to worse…
“In my opinion it is constantly improving. Also the VAR makes everything clearer. Of course, last year we didn’t understand a damn thing about handballs; they took away my goal of the year in Firenze. The game has changed, yes, but in the sense that years ago the top players decided. Today, you see teams that enter the Top 5 thanks to the collective. We talked about Atalanta, who have been doing enormous things for two seasons now. Ah, I heard about the European Super League: it’s a nice little political game between UEFA and FIFA.”
Kulusevski has invited you to return to the National Team. Do you think about it?
“Of course. It all depends on how I feel. I have to bring quality, not my name.”
Good luck in the winter title sprint…
“I’m not interested in getting to the end of the year and finding out I was only winter Champion.”