Ibrahimović once again helping AC Milan mount improbable Serie A title challenge
MILAN, Italy: Zlatan Ibrahimović could once again be helping AC Milan mount an improbable title challenge.
AC Milan host defending champion Napoli this weekend while eight points behind Serie A leader Inter Milan, which have a game in hand. They would take an unlikely collapse from Inter to allow the Rossoneri back into the title race, but a remarkable upturn of form has seen AC Milan loom larger in the rearview of the top two.
AC Milan’s title hopes appeared to have all but disappeared after a dismal October and November when they slipped from first to third after winning just two Serie A matches in two months and also eliminated from the Champions League.
But then came Ibra.
The talismanic Swede, who officially retired at the end of last season, returned to Milan in an advisory role on Dec. 11 and the Rossoneri have won six of their eight league matches since then, drawing the other two.
His former teammates are delighted to have him back.
“He’s here to help us, especially in the mental approach and motivation,” veteran forward Olivier Giroud said. “He talks to me before and during matches, at halftime, he pushes me to become even more of a leader.”
Another forward was even more enthusiastic.
“With him we have a man extra,” Rafael Leão said.
Ibrahimović helped to fire Milan to their first title in 11 years in 2022 and while injuries restricted the forward to just four appearances last season, he was nevertheless an ever present on the sidelines, with encouragement and advice.
Younger players used to enthuse about how much they learned from him, and his impact can be seen in the sudden explosion of Milan forward Luka Jović.
The Serbia international didn’t score a goal for the Rossoneri until December. He has netted four times in his past five matches, including a late winner at Frosinone last weekend, two minutes after coming off the bench.
Ibrahimović has helped to instil some much-needed self-belief in Jović and the rest of the Milan players.
“We need to keep moving forward, we are thinking about the next game,” Jović said. “I hope we’re going to continue to play like we have. Napoli are a very good opponent, it’s going to be a difficult match, but we have confidence. We believe in ourselves.”
Second-placed Juventus, only four points ahead, is in Milan’s sights.
Juventus lost at Inter 1-0 last weekend. Inter face a tricky trip to Roma on Saturday, the day before Milan’s match against Napoli. Juventus host Udinese on Monday.
“As I have already said several times, Ibra is a huge extra value,” Milan CEO Giorgio Furlani said. “He was a champion on the field, and he is and will be off it, too.
“We are lucky, as Milan fans, as Milan the club, as directors, to have him with us.”