150 Not Out: AC Milan Are Out Of Europe, But Zlatan Will Be Back

Surely we haven't seen the last of the super-Swede in European competition
16:00, 10 Dec 2021

AC Milan’s 2-1 loss to Liverpool was not how Zlatan Ibrahimovic would have foreseen his 150th European game going. The Swede tried to bend destiny to his mighty will with a late bicycle kick, but on this occasion the magician’s wand misfired. At 41 years of age, you would be forgiven for thinking you were witnessing Ibrahimovic’s last stand on the European stage. However, there is plenty to indicate we have not seen the last of the supreme Swede just yet.

Speaking to the Italian talk show Che Tempo Che Fa, the forward said, "I don't know what will happen after football, so I am a little scared to stop. We'll see, but I want to continue playing so that I don't have any regrets.". Zlatan is yet to be offered a contract extension by Milan, though Gazzetta dello Sport reported last month that he is likely to be handed a new deal. His performances certainly warrant an extension, with the former Barcelona star having netted six goals in his nine Serie A appearances this term. 

The Rossoneri currently sit top of Serie A, with a second consecutive qualification for the Champions League looking likely. The Italian giants have not accomplished this feat since 2013/14, and are without a Scudetto since 2010/11. ‘Ibra’ has been a huge part of this revival, bringing experience and a winning mentality into a dressing room no longer accustomed to success. If Milan achieve another Champions League qualification, or go one better and win Serie A, one more year at San Siro feels like a fair reward for Zlatan.

A Serie A title win might also feel like a natural ending to Zlatan’s second AC Milan spell. Leaving Italy as a champion would suit the decorated Swede, who prides himself on bringing success to every club he plays for. But that’s not to say Ibrahimovic would be ready for his pipe and slippers just yet. While the striker is still scoring goals and playing at a high level, a myriad of clubs would bring him in despite his advanced years.

A return to England looks unlikely. Zlatan’s comments about Manchester United in his latest book suggest a return to Old Trafford is off the table. Pep Guardiola dispensed with the services of a much-younger ‘Ibra’ at Barcelona, so is unlikely to try and bring him to Manchester City. Chelsea are a possibility, but it is hard to envisage the ex-Inter Milan star fitting Thomas Tuchel’s system. Liverpool is off the table too, due to Jurgen Klopp favouring a more fluid frontline. Perhaps a do-over at Arsenal, after the infamous “Zlatan doesn’t do auditions” incident?

China has stopped parachuting in expensive superstars, while Major League Soccer are focusing on homegrown talent to a greater degree nowadays. However, given his superb record Stateside, a reunion with LA Galaxy as a designated player is not out of the question. A return to Sweden looked to be a certainty at one point, and there was even a statue of him at his former club Malmo. Controversy has a way of finding Zlatan though, and the fact he has bought a stake in rival club Hammarby has ruined the relationship he enjoyed with Malmo fans.

The truth is, Ibrahimovic has built a career on being entirely unpredictable. There is a chance he leaves Milan and goes to none of the clubs we have listed here. He may also stay at the San Siro for another five years, and continue banging goals when his iconic ponytail turns grey. But don’t bet against Zlatan adding to his 150 games in Europe. At this point, I wouldn’t bet against him reaching 200.

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