By Jerry Mancini .
In the 2018/19 Serie A season, AC Milan missed out on the Champions League, finishing one point behind fourth-placed Inter Milan. Additionally, the Rossoneri failed to advance out of the group stage in the Europa League. The challenges in their campaign led coach Gennaro Gattuso to resign.
“Deciding to leave Milan’s bench is not easy. But it’s a decision I had to make,” Gattuso told La Repubblica.
“There was not a precise moment in which I made it, it was the sum of these 18 months as coach of a team that for me will never be like the others. Months that I lived with great passion, unforgettable months. ”
When the two-time Serie A and Champions League winner as a player with Milan decided to move on, the club elected to hire Sampdoria manager Marco Giampaolo to succeed in his position. His start with Milan wasn’t a good one as they lost four of their first seven matches. More noticeably, the club showed poor form, low confidence and poor structure. Many of the Milan players were fielded out of their position or, on many occasions, failed to support each other in their matches.
His time was short-lived with Milan as the club decided to replace him with Stefano Pioli after their 2-1 win against Genoa. The recently hired manager has fared much better in his time with Milan, however, areas of concern before his arrival this season were scoring, confidence and leadership on the field.
After a poor start, Rossoneri fans hoped the signing of Zlatan Ibrahimovic would turn their season around as they were headed towards the relegation zone. Before signing the Swedish striker, Milan’s highest scorers consisted of Krzysztof Piątek and left-back Theo Hernandez, with four goals each. Of the 15 goals Milan scored this season before Ibrahimovic arrived, 11 of those goals were from the midfield and defence, which is not good enough for a club with such high expectations.
— Zlatan Ibrahimović (@Ibra_official) January 29, 2020
The deal came with low risk, yet high reward for the club. The Swede signed on a six-month contract with an option to extend for another year.
“These six months will be key to see if I’m in form and can provide results. Otherwise, I’m not going to stay just to be here. That doesn’t interest me,” Ibrahimovic said.
“The challenge of being at the top level provides me with a lot of adrenaline. I haven’t seen many 38-year-old footballers return to a club like this.”
The signing of Ibrahimovic has been one of the best moves Paolo Maldini and ex-Chief Football Officer Zvonimir Boban made this season. A club that lacked an identity on the field was brought back to life after his first start with Milan. The striker scored their second goal in the match as they won 2-0 against Cagliari.
“I’m coming back to a club I hugely respect and to the city of Milan I love. I’ll fight together with my teammates to change the course of this season. I will do everything to make it happen,” Ibrahimovic said.
At 38 years old, he still has the ability to score and has shown no sign of slowing down in his career. The striker’s worst season in front of goal dates back to 2005/06 with Juventus and scored seven goals in 35 games in Serie A. While he has not played in Europe in the last two seasons as he elected to join Major League Soccer side LA Galaxy, this doesn’t seem to have affected his ability to contribute at such a high level.
The forward has accumulated over 500 career games in Europe, playing with clubs such as Ajax, Juventus, Inter, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United. With the amount of experience that the Swede has gained in his professional career and his understanding of how to play at a higher level, it didn’t take him long to transition back to life with Milan.
Rossoneri Icons Episode 1: Ibra’s firsts 🔴⚫️
Watch it in full on our app: https://t.co/k2zluibzhx@Ibra_official e le prime volte: questione di numeri… 1⃣
Guarda questo primo episodio sulla nostra App 📲#SempreMilan pic.twitter.com/ClkDyFsK26
— AC Milan (@acmilan) April 4, 2020
Aside from scoring in his first start with the Rossoneri, he started in seven of eight games in Serie A where he scored three goals and helped bring a winning mentality back to Milan. Additionally, he scored one goal in two matches in the Coppa Italia.
This past summer, Milan decided to bring in a lot of promising youth players such as Rafael Leao, Rade Krunic and Hernandez, while veterans including Ignazio Abate, Riccardo Montolivo and Cristian Zapata all left the club. When they have trailed in their matches this season, the club didn’t have an experienced leader, someone who was vocal on the field to help galvanise the team. At times, the team looked uninterested and unmotivated to play, such as in their 5-0 loss against Atalanta.
The forward certainly ticks the box in terms of final-third end product, too. The two strikers available to Pioli before Ibrahimovic arrived were Piatek and Leao, who scored one goal apiece from open play which was not good enough. The arrival of Ibrahimovic has made an instant impact. The team has been able to win games, score more and provide leadership on the field.
Being to able to create chances has been another area for concern for the Rossoneri. Milan has lacked any physicality in the box when they have possession upfront.
“If I don’t score, I make assists or do other things to help the team,” Ibrahimovic explained.
The Swede is known for his strength, willingness to play with his back to goal, finishing touch, vision, passing and ball control. These are areas which could benefit the team.
“Clearly, I can’t play like I did when I was 28,” Ibrahimovic said. “But I know what I can do. You mustn’t overdo it when you play. Instead of running, you can shoot from 40m.”
Milan will need to do everything possible to secure the services of Ibrahimovic for the 2020/21 Serie A season.
Without the Swede, they will return to missing a leader and an identity on the field.