A beleaguered AC Milan could be set to call on its talismanic Swede yet again.
Zlatan Ibrahimović officially retired at the end of last season with an emotional speech at San Siro that left almost everyone in the stadium in tears, including his teammates.
But during a disappointing October that saw Milan win just one game, the Rossoneri have reportedly been in constant contact with the 42-year-old about a potential return to the club in a backroom capacity.
Milan’s American owner Gerry Cardinale met with Ibrahimović on two successive days in September and could be set for further talks when Cardinale returns to the city for Tuesday’s Champions League match against Paris Saint-Germain.
So the Rossoneri are gearing up for a crucial week on an off the field as they look to turn their form around.
Milan started October top of Serie A but has now slipped to third place — albeit only three points behind league leader Inter Milan. It struggled to a narrow 1-0 win at promoted Genoa, lost at home to Juventus and then gave up a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 at Napoli.
It should find things easier on Saturday against lowly Udinese, which is one of only two teams yet to win a match in Serie A this season.
But coach Stefano Pioli will have to decide whether to take the risk of resting some players ahead of the match against PSG three days later in the Champions League, where the situation is even more dire.
Milan has yet to record a win or even score a goal in Europe this season and sits bottom of Group F with just two points. It lost 3-0 in Paris last week.
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After that loss — which came just three days after the defeat to Juventus — Milan appeared to have bounced back when it took a 2-0 lead at halftime in Naples with two goals from Olivier Giroud but it ended up with just a point.
“I’m a bit frustrated and angry with this result because we had the game in our hands,” a clearly downhearted Giroud said after the match. “We wanted to show a reaction after those two defeats.”
Giroud clearly showed his frustration when he was substituted with nine minutes remaining. The veteran France forward yelled out “no” and hit his hands on his legs as he looked at Pioli before walking off and sitting on an ice box next to the bench for the rest of the match.
Teammate Rafael Leão also reacted angrily toward the coach when he was taken off at the same time.
“I’m not a robot, I’m human and I have feelings,” Giroud said. “I felt I could still help the team but the coach makes his choices. I have a lot of respect for him and after five minutes I calmed down.”
Pioli’s job doesn’t appear to be at risk at the moment, although anything but a win over Udinese could change matters. If Ibrahimović is brought on board, it would not be as a potential replacement to Pioli but rather as an assistant — a role he more or less played during much of his last spell at Milan, especially in the final season when injuries restricted him to just four appearances.
Ibrahimović turned things around for Milan when he returned to the club in January 2020 and while his performances on the field were key to the Rossoneri winning the title the following year, he was arguably even more important off it.
Ibrahimović acted as a leader and a mentor to Milan’s young players, helping them with his experience and giving guidance and encouragement from the sidelines when he was unable to play.
He also always had a strong relationship with Pioli and it is likely the coach would gladly welcome him back.
On that emotional night, less than five months ago, Ibrahimović told the San Siro crowd: “I’ll see you around, if you’re lucky.”
Milan’s luck could be turning.