Zlatan Ibrahimovic to AC Milan: Does Swedish striker still have ability to revive Serie A club?

Free agent Ibrahimovic in Milan for medical

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is close to a return to Italy
Image: Zlatan Ibrahimovic is close to a return to AC Milan

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has secured a second stint as an AC Milan player, but what are the reasons behind his move and what can he bring to the troubled Serie A club?

After navigating his career among some of Europe's elite clubs, including Manchester United, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona and Ajax, the striker has re-joined AC Milan on an initial six-month deal, returning to the San Siro eight years after leaving for Paris Saint-Germain.

Milan's Serie A campaign has been nothing short of problematic so far, having replaced head coach Marco Giampaolo with Stefano Pioli after only seven games into the season, but the former Inter and Lazio boss has failed to turn things around with the club languishing in 11th spot in Serie A.

Newly appointed AC Milan forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic waves upon his arrival at Linate airport, on January 2, 2020. - Ibrahimovic has signed with AC Milan on a six-month deal, promising to help rescue the struggling Serie A outfit's season. The 38-year-old will undergo his medical on January 2 and will hold his first press conference the following day. 0:44
Ibrahimovic says he is thrilled to be back in the place he regards as home as he prepares to complete his move to AC Milan (Pictures: @acmilan)

Ibrahimovic - who joins as a free agent after leaving LA Galaxy - is likely to slot into AC Milan's starting XI as soon as he returns to full fitness and is in line to make his second debut for the club in their Coppa Italia clash against Spal on January 15, according to Sky in Italy.

Here, we examine how the move came about and what we can expect from Zlatan in a grand Serie A return…

AC Milan's fall from grace

AC Milan's decade ended in nightmare fashion, with a 5-0 drubbing at Atalanta that became their worst league defeat in more than 20 years. But it's fair to say the club has been living in a declining era of mediocrity and uncertainty ever since Ibrahimovic left for Paris Saint-Germain in 2012.

Massimiliano Allegri led the club to a Serie A title in 2011 but was sacked in January 2014 and since then, eight different managers have taken the reins at the San Siro, all of them failing to secure a return to the Champions League - which Milan have been missing from since 2014.

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored 56 goals in 85 appearances during his two seasons with AC Milan
Image: Ibrahimovic was AC Milan's top scorer in the past decade

Add to that a takeover fiasco from Yonghong Li. The Chinese businessman bought the club from Silvio Berlusconi in 2017 but failed to pay back a loan from American investment firm Elliott Management, which now own the club. That really gives a better picture of how one of the most decorated clubs in world football has suffered an astonishing fall from grace.

However, what ultimately made Milan pull the trigger on the deal for Ibrahimovic was a lack of goals. Remarkably, Ibrahimovic has been the club's top goalscorer of the past decade with 42 goals in two seasons, a testament of the team's sporting woes. Strikers such as Mario Balotelli, Carlos Bacca, Andre Silva and Gonzalo Higuain have all been unable to hit the same goalscoring form and left.

The hope of the Milan board is Ibrahimovic will kick off the club's new decade in the same fashion as he did in the 2010s.

Zlatan is hungry for a challenge

After two trophy-less years in the MLS, Ibrahimovic feels the need to prove to himself and the rest of the world that at 38-years-old he can still tip the balance in a major European league, and in a team of the calibre of AC Milan. Given his age, this could be the very last big move in his career.

Ibrahimovic has a soft spot for Serie A football: after all, it is where he really established himself as one of the finest footballers on the planet at Juventus and Inter between 2004 and 2009. Reports in Italy explain how his choice was ultimately favoured by family reasons, but AC Milan have convinced Ibrahimovic more than any other club their firm wish to sign him, and forked out the money to prove it.

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Here are some of Ibrahimovic's MLS career highlights as he waves goodbye to LA Galaxy after two seasons.

The Swede loves making and being the difference, and he has never shied away from a challenge. He joins a team in the bottom half of the table at the turn of the year, with the fifth-worst attack in the league, and whose appointment of a new manager was generally underwhelming. Not the easiest scenario to kick off your adventure at a new club.

However, goals aside, the former Manchester United striker landed in Milan with a clear mission to become the driving force behind a young team lacking confidence, morale and character, and will act as a big brother figure in the changing room to regroup the changing room and give them a much-needed boost in impetus and motivation.

He has not played since the end of October and will likely need a while to get back to full fitness, but Ibrahimovic will start making an impact on his team-mates immediately. He wants to win everything, all the time, and his muscular personality will induce his team-mates to make that extra effort to remain competitive. Having a proven winner within their ranks will undoubtedly bring Milan's game up a notch.

His arrival has obviously reignited a spark of pride and enthusiasm within the fanbase. Throughout one of the darkest periods in the club's recent history, fans and players alike have been desperately looking for a character of Ibrahimovic's aura, personality and character to cling on to.

You do not have to tell them twice - the last time the club backed him, they won a league title.

A sporting choice or a business idea?

The move has been criticised by some in Italy and viewed as a purely mediatic coup, centred around the club's economical needs and used as a marketing strategy rather than for a sporting boost.

The striker will pocket around 10m euros from Milan should the club decide to extend his contract for a further year. Taking into account the impact he can make at the club, both on and off the pitch, it is a good deal for everyone involved.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Image: Can Ibrahimovic still make the difference in Serie A?

It is also not a secret Ibrahimovic, like many other sports stars, is also a shrewd entrepreneur and has been investing in business ventures in parallel to his football career. In the past, he has set up a sports clothing brand A-Z, which closed in 2018; in 2013 he launched a line of perfumes, called Ibrahimovic Parfums; and he even has a smartphone game called Zlatan Legends.

The 38-year-old owns two prestigious houses in Milan, one in the Montenapoleone fashion quarter and one in posh Brera. It is quite possible the striker has one eye on life after retirement and could be already looking forward to settling down in Italy's financial capital.

For now, the move looks to have given new stimulus to the fans, and it certainly adds a significant ego into the mix of Serie A players including Cristiano Ronaldo. The Swede has rarely failed to live up to his standards, so there is every right to feel as though this is a major turning point for him and AC Milan.

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