Zlatan Ibrahimovic returned to much fanfare in January, with the Milan legend seen as a crucial addition to the squad despite now being 38 years of age.
His memorable first spell with us was cut short prematurely due to financial issues at the club, but the impact he made during those two seasons in a Milan shirt have never been forgotten.
Of course, this is no longer prime Zlatan. However considering the quality, resilience and determination that he has shown on and off the pitch throughout his career, he remains in top condition and his influence has made a difference since January.
On the pitch, he’s bagged four goals and an assist in 10 appearances. Off it, his experience and winning mentality has hopefully made a lasting impact on the young squad that he’s found on his return to Milan.
As per the club’s official site, his deal runs until the end of the season with an option to extend for the 2020/21 campaign, but speculation now suggests that he might not be sticking around for another year.
Keep Ibrahimovic another season?
According to La Gazzetta dello Sport, the decision may have already been made as it’s suggested that Ibrahimovic won’t stay given the shake up at managerial level with Paolo Maldini potentially joining Zvonimir Boban in leaving the club.
That in turn leaves CEO Ivan Gazidis running the show, and the report above would suggest that isn’t something that particularly appeals to Ibrahimovic.
In many ways, it makes sense to try and convince him to stay on. His presence up front to lead the line coupled with his goal threat and ability to bring others into play are all qualities that he hasn’t lost even at this stage of his career.
Whether it’s subtle clips of him directing the younger players on the pitch or his teammates revealing how important his guidance is in training or in the dressing room, this young Milan squad should be absorbing as much knowledge and advice as Ibrahimovic is willing to provide it with.
Milan can’t solely rely on youth and potential. Experience is fundamental, and Ibrahimovic is one of only a few who can provide it in spades to offer a key balance in the squad. Considering both Lucas Biglia and Giacomo Bonaventura will see their respective contracts expire this summer, the squad could be about to get even younger.
Add his ability to be a commercial asset too and the impact he makes on the club’s brand, growth and appeal to the masses, he’s perhaps incredibly important in other ways too. The name Ibrahimovic still holds weight even with the more casual audiences.
Time to move on?
That said, just how much longer can Milan rely on the Swede? From his big misses in front of goal which have been wholly uncharacteristic to his constant displays of frustration in the most recent outings due to the lack of quality around him, there was always a risk that his presence could go the other way too.
His success and aura command a sense of superiority. Whether it’s his teammates searching him out specifically when better options are available or if it’s Zlatan himself taking on a shot from distance with no realistic chance of ending up in the back of the net, there are moments where you just wonder if it’s the right move to stick with him for another year.
His leadership and experience perhaps make it an easy question to answer as we can’t afford to base all our hopes on young players with potential who haven’t been and done all the things he has been part of.
However, when the need for him to have a lesser role in the long run and possible wage complications come into play given his age, it arguably starts to raise genuine question marks over whether or not Gazidis will reach an agreement with Ibrahimovic for him to stay on next season.
He’ll leave a major void behind as he does whenever he leaves a club both in quality and personality. Make no mistake, Milan need Zlatan more than Zlatan needs Milan, but it has to be on favourable terms for the club and with his acceptance that he won’t be the main star of the show next season.
If those pieces fall into place, it could be argued that having him on board for another season will do more good than harm as this young squad needs some guidance to help the coaching staff take us forward.