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What does the future hold for Zlatan Ibrahimovic & AC Milan?

What does the future hold for Zlatan Ibrahimovic?

This is something that’s been posed in many Italian outlets over the past several months.

The iconic Swede returned to Milan just over two years ago, intent on restoring the once legendary – but fallen – giants back to where they ought to be: at the summit of the Italian game.

In the winter of 2019/20, Milan had plenty of youth, but not experience. In Ibrahimovic, he had all of the latter and none of the former. It was a race against time for the then-38-year-old to turn Milan around and bring a squad full of talented players up to the high standards once associated with the Rossoneri.

And he did it. Ibrahimovic seemingly turned back time in a major way: he scored 10 goals in the second half of his comeback season, then followed it up with 15 goals last season.

For a good stretch of about a year – from January 2020 to 2021, he almost single handedly carried Milan on his tall-but-sculpted back. However, over the last 12 months, things haven’t been as easy.

Ibrahimovic has become increasingly susceptible to injuries. This is understandable given his age and general wear and tear on his body. Over the last year, the injuries have become more frequent, and the 40-year-old has now spent more time on the side lines than he has on the pitch.

His 15 Serie A goals came in only 19 appearances last season, with injury ruling him out for 16 matches. This season, he’s made just the 15 appearances, with only 11 of them from the start. But again, like last season, his goals-to-game ratio is impressive: eight in 15 for a man who was playing professional football at Malmo when some of his teammates at Milan weren’t even born is extraordinary.

Ibrahimovic has already picked up three injuries this season, and is currently out with a problem with his achilles tendon. He last played in the 0-0 draw against Juventus a month ago, and no timeframe has been currently set for his latest return.

His contract expires at the end of the season, and there is a discussion as to what is the right course of action for both Milan and the player. The argument could be made that Ibrahimovic has now fulfilled his duty at Milan, in that he lifted standards and became the de facto leader of the side for the last two years. Moreover, his presence was a lightning rod for the press, and this allowed the younger talents in the squad, like Theo Hernandez, Sandro Tonali, Davide Calabria and Rafael Leao, to grow and develop at their own pace.

In addition, Ibrahimovic is earning a figure believed to be in the region of €7m ($7.9m)-per-season at Milan, and one has to wonder does it make sense for the club to continue spending that kind of money on a player who cannot play a full season at this stage? Unfortunately for Milan, both of the club’s main strikers are on the wrong side of their mid-30s, and this summer Milan is thought to be willing to invest significant amounts of money in a younger striker, with Lille’s Jonathan David, Torino’s Andrea Belotti and Man City’s Gabriel Jesus all mentioned as potential arrivals.

Ibrahimovic for his part, and no doubt wary of his legacy, reportedly doesn’t want to hang around if his fitness is deserting him and the injury niggles continue to mount. Talks have been on going over a new deal but it’s thought the Swede will only give an answer at the end of the season when he will assess whether his body is up to the demands of another full season of elite football.

A departure could be best for all concerned. Milan can look to the future with a younger striker who can score the goals needed to cement a serious title push next season, and Ibrahimovic can leave with his head held high and work complete: restoring pride back to one of Europe’s grandest clubs.