Man or Superman?

By Pete Reilly Source: Global Times Published: 2020/11/26 22:23:40

Zlatan Ibrahimovic still going strong for AC Milan at 39

Zlatan Ibrahimovic Photo: VCG

When AC Milan play Fiorentina this weekend they will be missing Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Most teams would not miss a 39-year-old but then again the Swedish striker is not your ordinary 39-year-old.

At an age when most footballers are either long retired or have moved away from Europe's biggest leagues, Zlatan has done the opposite, signing on for a second stint at the San Siro in the summer.

He's been enjoying an Indian summer since, as proved by both goals in a 2-1 win over title rivals Napoli last weekend, his ninth and 10th goals in six Serie A games this season. That made him the first player aged 38 or older to score 10 goals in a top-five European leaues in a season. His six games will be hard to beat.

The striker will miss Fiorentina and the next two weeks after going off injured.

"I don't have much information, he had ice on his thigh and we'll see in the next few days what the tests say," AC Milan assistant coach Daniele Bonera told Sky Sports after the game. "He isn't someone who usually comes off the pitch." 

He is not.

Zlatan's performance was not lost on his former teammate Gennaro Gattuso in the Napoli dugout.

"Milan believe firmly in Ibra, they believe 100 percent in what they are doing,' Gattuso told Sky Sport Italia after the defeat. "He seems I think even stronger now than he was 10, 12 years ago.

"They put the crosses in because they know he'll get on the end of them. What we did today was create lots of chances and not believe in them fully."

Zlatan believes in himself more than anyone else, of course, as proven when he was injured while at Manchester United.

"I will go through this like everything else and come back even stronger," he said at the time of the injury, which came in the Europa League quarterfinal against Anderlecht in 2016.

"So far I played with one leg so it shouldn't be any problem. One thing is for sure, I decide when it's time to stop and nothing else. Giving up is not an option. See you soon."

That was described as a "career-threatening injury" for normal footballers, not Zlatan who was as good as his word.

He meay have left Manchester United but went to Los Angeles to play for the Galaxy and proved himself the biggest star in Tinseltown with 53 goals in just 58 games.

His recovery shocked doctors.

"His knee is so strong that the doctors said they had never seen anything like it," Zlatan's agent, Mino Raiola, said in an interview with the Swedish newspaper Expressen.

"He has a knee that it is almost impossible for a football player with a 20-year career to have. It was quite clean, there was no harm in it.

"Zlatan is so strong that the doctor wants him back after his career to research on him. They work on the world's best research institutions for the knees and ligaments.

"They research a lot on the subject and that is why they are better than everyone else, and doctors want back Zlatan to do research on him.

"So after Zlatan's career, we will go back and open him up again to do research on his ligaments."

Man or Superman? It's hard to know but what is for sure is that Zlatan is the poster boy for a glut of Peter Pan footballers who refuse to grow old.

"I'm like Benjamin Button, I've always been young, never old," the 39-year-old told Milan TV earlier this season.

He was named Serie A Player of the Month for October, a feat made all the more remarkable as he came back from contracting the novel coronavirus in September.

"Hopefully, I can keep on going like this with the strength to score, because at the end of the game I get tired, right? Because they say I'm old but I'm just getting warmed up," he continued.

"I've played in Italy for seven of eight years and, as a striker, I know you don't get many chances to score. So when you do, you have to make the most of them and score."

The new Football Manager game, released last week, still believes in Zlatan. He is one of only four players to have four maximum 20 rankings among their attributes. Notably the others are all OAPs in football terms: 33-year-old Lionel Messi, 35-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo and 37-year-old Fabio Quagliarella.

Ronaldo has been a revelation since leaving Real Madrid for Juventus. One statistic this week showed the striker has scored 29 of Juve's 59 Serie A goals in 2020 ­- the highest portion among any player to play both 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons.

There are other ageing stars who refuse to give up as time comes calling. Luis ­Suarez has been on fire since moving to Atletico Madrid, Luka Modric and Sergio Ramos are still vital to Real Madrid, and James Milner is the ­go-to man for Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool in a number of positions.

None of them are 39, though.

Zlatan has fans in some of the best to play the game, including former Roma striker Francesco Totti who played on in Serie A until he was 40.

"Zlatan could play on one leg. He could go until he's 50 at this level," Totti said at the launch of Sinisa Mihailovic's autobiography this month.

"Seeing you play is a pleasure," Totti told Zlatan at the event. "The physical strength, the technique, the plays that people never expect. I am proud to see you again on the pitch." 

He is sure to be back on the pitch again sooner rather than later.

Whisper it but if he keeps up this early-season form then not only will he restore Milan to the top of Italian football and end Juve's dominance for the last decade but he will surely be golden boot.

Who would bet against a 40-year-old Ballon d'Or winner?

Posted in: SOCCER

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