Zlatan Ibrahimović spoke at length to Milan Studios after extending his deal with the club for another year.
Ibra put pen to paper yesterday at Casa Milan and made it official that he would be staying in Red and Black of Milan at least until the end of the 2021/22 season.
There is no denying the impact Zlatan has had on the squad since returning in January 2020. Apart from his goals, the big Swede has helped change the mentality of Milan, and made everyone around him better.
On the occasion of his renewal, the 39-year-old sat down with Milan Studios’ Mauro Suma for an extensive interview, which you can read in full here:
Zlatan, today you say ‘yes’ to Milan again, are you saying it with the same enthusiasm as the first day?
“[Smiles] I am delighted. I’m staying for another year, that’s what is really important because, as I’ve always said, being at Milan, playing for Milan, makes me feel at home. I’m really happy, I feel great. The way I feel being at the Club, with everyone who works for the club: my teammates, the Coach, and the fans who I miss a lot at the stadium. This is like my home, if I can stay my whole life, I will.”
Zlatan, can you imagine the reaction of every Milan fan behind that camera?
“I think it’s positive, everyone will be happy even though some people had doubts before I arrived due to my age but I’ve proven, over the last year and a few months, that age doesn’t matter. It’s all mental, about mentality, if you make yourself available for certain things, you can do it. My mindset is to always improve and do my utmost. On the field, either you’ve got it or you don’t, it doesn’t go away it’s just that you need to feel great physically and be in condition to do your things. I’ve given my play for the team to help out as much as possible.”
[A video package showing how the Milan fans welcomed Ibra last January was shown to Zlatan]
“The reason I feel welcomed at Milan is because of the fans, from my first day I’ve had a great rapport with them. I always do my best for them because it’s not easy to play without them. 80,000 calling for you, wanting you on the field, is something else. The fans have always been great with me, very respectful, and when I play I try to give my best for everyone. This second time, second time at Milan, in which they haven’t forgotten me, I’m trying to give as much back.”
When you arrive at Milanello every day, and see your teammates, the Coach and everyone working there, what do you feel?
“The desire to help out as much as possible, it’s motivating, it gives me adrenaline to see these young players and you see the growth of these youngsters, from the first day I arrived until today. I’ve seen the growth and progress of each one, everyone has done their best. I think that the team, as in each player, have understood the sacrifices needed to be where we are today. It’s all in the head.”
Talking about that, do you like the project of a young Milan? A Milan looking to the future?
“Yes, because it makes me feel young [smiles]. Every day I see my teammates, they make me feel young and there’s the competitivity: when they run, I have to match them because I cannot be outdone. They challenge me, they bring out the most in me every day. Once in a while, I exaggerate with it and should be calmer, but that’s the mentality. I like Milan’s new project, I like it because it’s a new challenge. I’d gotten used to playing with great Champions who’d won everything or almost. This is a different situation, it’s a different sort of responsibility, on an individual level. When you play with great Champions, everything gets settled on the field. Here it’s different, you need to take on more responsibility, you need to show the right path to success because if you’ve been there, you have experience and that’s what I want to pass on to everyone in this team. It’s a great challenge, when you do it well, you get a lot more back than when you play with the great Champions because it means you’ve done something more than what is normal.”
[A video package showing Ibra’s acrobatic goal against Lecce from 2010 was shown to Zlatan]
“10 years ago, when I ran more, when I could run in the space [laughs], the ball came to me and I saw the ‘keeper was off his line, I thought ‘let us try it. If it goes in good, otherwise it is not a problem, we can try again’. It went in, when you score these goals, which doesn’t happen often, it gives you a feeling that is special, it’s like ‘I did it!’. When you do these things and it doesn’t go in, you look like someone who has nothing to do with football. But when it goes in, you’re a genius. In that moment, I was a genius.”
Zlatan, is it confirmation that your teammates listen to and follow you that those who used not to do the cryotherapy now do it?
“I can’t judge what happened before I arrived, I can only judge from my first day here. When you’re a leader, and you’re an example, you do things and if they respect you, they’ll follow. There’s no need to say much, they respect you and think: ‘if he does it and won, and is winning, then it is the right path’. It’s not enough to just say things, you need to show how things are done. When I was young, I was fortunate to play with Champions, I used to look at them and follow them. Now I have a different role, I am followed and I’m doing my best to help out. Everyone has their own personality and character, which is right to have and keep, because it’s the vision of themselves, but there are some things you need to do to feel good.”
Milan still together with Zlatan. Zlatan still together with Milan. If you close your eyes, where do you the partnership going?
“I see us doing great things. The thing is when I arrived, because I arrived mid-season, and from that point for a year, we were always first, if it had started at the beginning of the season, today we’d have a trophy in the cabinet, at home, wherever because there’s always room for a trophy [smiles]. However, we must continue. After a year, normally you get something back, when you do well for a year. Whereas we did well for a year, and it’s not over yet. There’s little left but we need to continue and believe; if you don’t believe, it’s difficult because nothing is impossible. We’ve shown over the last year, when a lot of people have been judging and saying things about this Milan, ‘blah blah blah blah’, but we’ve always answered on the field. We’ve worked, made sacrifices and proven we can do it. When you win something, it makes you hungry to win more, that’s the secret but first you’ve got to win.”
Taking from what you’ve said, can Milan make the Champions League this season?
“This season we need to believe in what we’re doing, if we continue believing we can do something. Nothing’s finished yet and it’s not impossible, because everyone has their own objectives, mine is to win. If I didn’t win, it’s a disappointment for me. That’s my mentality, everyone has their own, but you need to believe, that’s the secret.”
[A video package showing Ibra presented to the fans at San Siro in 2010 was shown to Zlatan]
“That was a great day. [The video shows Zlatan saying to the fans: ‘Remember, I have come here to win. This year we will win it all]. [Laughs] I was really pumped…”
Is it true you already wanted to play that night?
“No, I think the documents hadn’t come through yet.”
But you wanted to play anyway?
“Yes. I was really pumped because I was coming from a moment at Barcelona that was not very positive and my happiness came back in that moment, my smile, too. That was the moment I understood how great it is to play football. With a packed stadium, at San Siro with the Milan fans, is really top. It’s something that bothers me a bit now, we’ve been over a year without the fans and that’s not easy because if the fans had been there this year, I think we’d have some more points than we do, which we need. When you’ve got the fans behind you, it pushes you, it gives you adrenaline and that extra you need on the field. I’m really sorry they’re not there, we miss them a lot.”
Zlatan, you’ve said your teammates are like sons to you, are they all the same or do you like to interpret each one individually based on their characteristics and personalities?
“Each one is the same off the field, on the field we’re all the same because we have the same objectives. But you treat each one differently, because it’s my job to stimulate everyone. When I’m out of Italy, away from the team, I miss them all, it’s like how I miss my two sons who are in Sweden. It’s the same, when I’m away from here I miss 25 sons.”
If they were to offer to have your name tied to Milan away from the field, can you see yourself at Milan even after you’ve finished playing?
“At the moment I’m fully focused on helping in what are my responsibilities; that is on the field and off it, because I’m still active. One thing at a time, what comes afterwards, I don’t know. This adventure was meant to last six months, we’re at the year mark now, and there’s going to be another year. Let me do this first, then we can talk about the second phase.”
Is that answer also valid if they were to ask you to become the Coach?
“That’s not something I can answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’, because if I said ‘yes’, I’d do it because I gave my word. Giving my word is all that matters to me, but I don’t think being a coach is easy. It is more stressful than being a player, because you have to transfer your information to others and they have to do what you say. But you never know.”
[A video package showing Pioli saying the following to Ibra is shown: “Ciao Zlatan, I have thought hard about what to say to you and I found something which I liked a lot and I think you will like it too. It’s an extract from the film ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’: ‘It is never too late or too early to be whoever you want to be. There is no time limit, start wherever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view, I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you are not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again’. Zlatan, I’m overjoyed you’ve extended your contract, now let’s do our best to win something because time is running out.”]
“What we went through last year was very… it wasn’t easy and Pioli would say to me every game: ‘Ibra, today you be the good guy, I will be the bad one’. Then the following game he’d say: ‘Today you be the bad guy and I will be the good one’. We’d play these games but he’d take change when he wanted to. But sometimes when he told me to be positive, I still need to attack a bit, but not be negative. There’s this balance. At the start you don’t know people but from the first day it has been very easy to work with Coach Pioli because he has the right mentality. Every day he has this energy that transforms the team, he wants the most from the team and he works so much. Sometimes he calls me in the morning asking where I am: ‘I am coming’. ‘Well, you are late, I am already working’. He challenges me like that.”
Could you say that today you’re more of a pure striker? More of a first striker to compared to 10 years ago?
“[Smiles] Yes, it’s like I said, I’m adapting my play to help the team as much as I can. Today, I can’t play as I did 10 years ago, or even 5 years ago, because the body changes, the style of play changes.”
A few weeks have passed, but it’s nice to ask Ibrahimović about the Theater of Dreams, Old Trafford. Were you proud of how your teammates battled in the Europa League, in Manchester, against one of Europe’s greats like Man United?
“Yes, we proved we can play and fight against these great teams, which is also a great club. Over two legs, we showed we were stronger than them, at that moment, and we would have deserved a lot more than we got. We need games like those because they give you value in what you do. The league is useful, that brings you out to Europe. But the team needed this Europa League to understand what we’re playing for, to get out in Europe and play these games. If it’s the Champions League then it’s even better obviously, it’s the greatest tournament there is. We are fighting every day to achieve the objective that the Club has.”
I’ll ask you something a bit indiscreet and curious. Last July when you were subbed off in our match at San Siro against Bologna, after the match did you have a chat with Coach Pioli? Which of you spoke more? Or was it even?
“Well, it depends. On that occasion, I spoke first, then he did. The day after, he spoke first and then I did [smiles]. It’s normal, it’s the emotions. When you feel good, you want to be on the field as much as possible. Whereas he wants to protect me, take me off to save me for the next game. I don’t know if it’s just my problem but mentality is I need to be there and do my best until the end. Because I know I give my all, my teammates will too. Add in the adrenaline, the emotions and things going well, and you’re not satisfied until the end.”
Is it true that while you were away with the Swedish national team, every day you needed to hear from someone at Milanello on the phone? That you were missing Milanello so much?
“Yes, because after not playing for the national team for five years, it was something different. I missed Milanello and my colleagues, the team, because I was used to being there, when others went on international duty, I would stay there. During the international break, a lot of Primavera train with the first team. I missed that. I wasn’t used to it so I’d call. The atmosphere in our team is the best, we talk every day, on and off the field, even away from Milanello we talk. If I were to say the secret of this team, it’s the atmosphere, it’s always been the best.”
[A video package showing Club Cook Michele Persechini saying the following to Ibra is shown: “Ciao Zlatan. I’m not happy, I’m delighted, that you’ve extended. You’re like a in the box: the more experience you have, the more you find the back of the net. I remember when we visited you in Pasadena while on tour, and Rino Gattuso told me to bake a tart for Ibra and I’d told him it was already done because I knew he’d want one. And you asked for a tart for your family. You are a great person, especially off the field, you are so down to earth. You’re the only one who after a game comes over to me and asks: ‘How did I do?’ I am always surprised by this behavior by you. That does you honor, Zlatan. Ciao from Michele.”]
“Micky is a great chef, I’m the only one who attacks him if the pasta isn’t good. I remember one time I was told he wouldn’t be at a match, I think it was the first Derby, so I called Paolo [Maldini] and everyone and they told me President Berlusconi said he couldn’t come due to COVID so I called Adriano Galliani and said: ‘Please boss, without him we will not win.’ ‘Give me 5 minutes’. Five minutes later he called me back: ‘He is on his way’. He got there, set up and we won the Derby. Micky is very important to us and he’s a great guy. He’s been a part of Milan’s history for a long time, he knows all the Champions. He’s always got his energy around the team, the team always treats him well and gets on well with him. He’s a great guy.”
I watch you when you play all the games until the last minute of injury time, I observe you at the end of the game, when you’re in the center of the field after Milan’s won – that’s when I see you fulfilled. I see you’ve been fed by the game and you savored it until the very end, chasing down the final ball. Is that why you’re still here with us?
“I feel like I have a lot of responsibility, and in those moments it can be easy or not, the end of the match is like that because you’ve got so many emotions, you’re in the game, with adrenaline, and everything comes together at that moment, and like I said, if they see me run more, even when I can’t run, they’ll do twice as much. If I do things I don’t normally do, so will my colleagues. And I need my colleagues more than they need me, because without them I couldn’t do everything I do today. And you want to win matches, when you win it feels good. But it all starts in training. That’s something I brought to the group: when we play in training, we play to win. If you’re against me, I’ll do everything to win for my team. That’s where it all starts, at the end of the week we’ve got the game, and you bring everything you did in training into the game. The difference is, you can’t make mistakes in a match as you do during the week. That’s why we train, making mistakes in training allows us to learn from those mistakes and to try to avoid them during official matches. When you win it feels incredible. It covers all the mistakes and problems, it all gets covered by a win. I like winning. I don’t know if I learnt to have this desire or if it’s innate, but I like it. I like it, it makes me feel good but every day has to be like that.”