On the 27th of December, a few days after Christmas, AC Milan gave their fans a late present: #IZCOMING was written all over their social media. The message was clear: Ibrahimović, their former star striker re-joined the Rossoneri on a free transfer. He signed a one and a half year contract for them and was ready to conquer Europe again after a spell in the Major League Soccer (MLS).
However, the striker is already 38-year old and lost most of his pace and willingness to run and despite his impressive career seems not to be as frightening for opposing defenders as he used to be. Despite this, since the Swedish journey played his first game for Milan, the club has won all games but one. What has changed for the struggling side since his transfer? Moreover, how has the attacker directly contributed to their recent success?
Since his first appearance as a substitute against Sampdoria on the 6th January at San Siro, Ibrahimović already has scored two goals, both easy tap-ins, which he was able to score due to his good positioning and experience. Yet, the underlining numbers, which are not visible on the score sheet, are those of greater interest.
The player is obviously a great aerial threat, contesting nine a game while winning more than half of them. This ability, combined with his strength, help him in getting at the end of long balls and shielding them, in order to open up space for his teammates. Another aspect, which he has developed over the years, is his playmaking. He not only passes nearly 27 times a game, which is immense for a striker, but also adds a new threat for the opponents offering great vision and through balls for the faster players.
Despite some obvious flaws, he still attracts defenders, who try to man mark him in order to stop him. Regardless of this, the striker manages around four shots per 90 making him enormously dangerous and unpredictable for opposing keepers. The tight marking may limit his chances of influencing the game, but opens up room for other attackers. This development can also be seen in the team's overall numbers, as they average three more shots a game, since having him as the de facto leader in their squad.
Milan team-mate and Turkish winger Hakan Çalhanoğlu has this to say about his new teammate..
“since he arrived, our confidence has been improving. What I like about him is that he will openly tell me what I get wrong and what I am doing well.”
Ibrahimović's effect off the pitch may even be bigger than his on pitch performances. The team desperately lacked a leader, a player with experience, who helps the younger players, but also criticises obvious flaws in order to improve them. When now watching an AC Milan match, you can easily see the Swede screaming, gesticulating and giving clear orders, even often chatting with their coach Stefano Pioli.
In conclusion, the Swede may not be the player he once was, but he gives a young AC Milan way more than his services on the pitch. The upswing of Milan's form in the last games was not random, but can clearly be attributed to the signing of the striker. The future finally seems to be bright for the marquee Italian club and they can rightfully dream towards national and European glory again.
Published 01 Feb 2020, 21:54 IST