Zlatan Ibrahimovic is set to give Milan a huge boost at the start of the season by returning to action.
The outgoing striker is just weeks away from returning to full training for the squad after the knee injury that forced him to miss Sweden’s Euro 2020 campaign.
Head coach Stefano Pioli knows Ibrahimovic can transform his squad, as proven when he scored 15 goals in his first 15 Serie A games last season.
He scored a goal every 79.47 minutes during that race, and although his score then dried up, the veteran remains a talisman with the Rossoneri.
Asked about Ibrahimovic’s condition, Pioli said at a press conference on Sunday: “Physically he is certainly better, although he has not started to train fully with the team and that it forces things a little.
“Next week will be very important for him because he has to start working with the ball and that’s what he missed.
“So next week we’ll see if he’s able to train with us, and during the international break he can maybe be fit and available.
“I think his role is always the same: Zlatan is a charismatic leader in terms of character. He is also a leader in the field, he is really the benchmark for everyone.
“He’s an important figure. He’s very motivated.”
Ibrahimovic sits eighth on the list of top scorers in all competitions over the past 10 seasons, among players competing in Europe’s top five leagues.
It’s all the more impressive as his goals over two seasons with LA Galaxy don’t count towards his 247 strikes tally, and Pioli will know Milan carried a unique threat when Ibrahimovic was around last season.
They won 66.7% of the games he started (12 of 18) and that dropped slightly to 60% as Ibrahimovic was not in Pioli’s eleven.
Milan start their 2021-22 season against Sampdoria on Monday, then face Cagliari next weekend, and these might be the only games Ibrahimovic has to miss, if Pioli’s fitness predictions prove to be correct.
“He’s in good shape and is shooting mentally,” Pioli said of the player who turns 40 in October.
“He’s a player who can still be a match winner for the team, for himself. So he’s very motivated and looking forward to returning to full training with his teammates.
“It’s the same for me: I can’t wait to bring him back to the training ground.”