The return of the seemingly ageless powerhouse Zlatan Ibrahimovic has once again transformed AC Milan.
When the veteran Swedish superstar moved back to Milan at the start of 2020, he sparked a turnaround that propelled the team to finish second in his first full season and then end their 11-year wait for the league title the following year.
This time, his return from injury has led to another Milan revival.
Ibrahimovic made his first appearance of the season in Sunday’s 2-0 win over Atalanta and at 41 years 146 days, he became the oldest Milan player in Serie A, beating the mark that Alessandro Costacurta had established at 41 years 25 days.
“There’s great emotion. It’s been a year and a half that I haven’t managed to play soccer as I wanted to, that I wasn’t well and I couldn’t do what I loved,” Ibrahimovic told Italian broadcasters Sport Mediaset.
“Before I suffered a lot … because of my physical condition. Now it’s really good to be back on the field.”
The victory was Milan’s fourth straight in all competitions and lifted the team into second place alongside Inter Milan.
That run started with a win over Torino on February 10, ending a streak of seven matches without a victory.
Ibrahimovic’s first match back in the squad, following knee surgery in May, was that game against Torino, though he didn’t play.
“From the moment I came back into the squad I was sure I could still make a difference and could transmit my certainty and my confidence to the others,” Ibrahimovic said.
“It wasn’t a happy period when I came back in, but in the last three or four matches we have been playing very well … but we mustn’t let up, because just one defeat is enough to call everything into question again.”
Milan visit Fiorentina on Saturday looking to continue their push for the top four in Serie A in a tight battle for the qualifying positions for next season’s Champions League.
The team visit Tottenham in the round of 16 of this season’s competition on Wednesday, protecting a slender 1-0 advantage from the first leg.
A Champions League winner’s medal is one of the few missing items from Ibrahimovic’s long list of honours.
The Swedish forward has been left off Milan’s list for the competition this year but could yet have several more chances to win the title.
“If I feel like I feel today, I can continue to play for a few more years still, not just next year,” Ibrahimovic said.
“The truth is that up until three weeks ago, the feelings weren’t positive. Then something happened and I’ve done more in three weeks than in the past eight months.”