He turned 41 earlier this month and due to a serious knee injury won’t play until next year, but the last thing on Zlatan Ibrahimović’s mind right now is retirement.
“I have a big passion for my game,” the AC Milan forward told CNN’s Becky Anderson in an interview.
“I have a different situation now with my age and with the teammates I have, but I’m enjoying every day because I think, when you stop football, you will miss it so much that you don’t want to have any regrets saying I should have kept playing,” added Ibrahimović, whose contract with Milan runs until June 30, 2023.
Now in his second spell with the Serie A club – the Swede has made 74 appearances and scored 36 goals in all competitions for Milan – Ibrahimović helped the Rossoneri last season win its first Serie A title in 11 years.
“I’m trying to stay at the level with these young guys working hard and just to keep the rhythm,” added Ibrahimović, who is Sweden’s all-time top scorer with 62 goals.
If he’s not contemplating retirement quite yet, Ibrahimović does admit that when he’s not contributing to the team, he will be “done” playing.
“I want to be healthy and, when I’m on that level, then I keep playing and see how far I can take it,” said the Swede.
“As long as I can produce results, I will still play. The day I slow down, I want the people around me to be honest and say he’s slowing down and then I’ll be realistic.”
After Milan’s Scudetto success, the Swedish striker revealed on social media that he played the last six months of the season without an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee – the strong band of tissue that connects the thigh bone to the shin bone and the knee joint.
“Took more than 20 injections in six months,” said Ibrahimović said in a post published to his verified Instagram account.
“Emptied the knee once a week for six months. Painkillers every day for six months. Barely slept for six months because of the pain. Never suffered so much on and off the pitch.”
Nonethelss Ibrahimović still played 23 out of 28 league games last season and scored eight goals.
“I think in my case I have this drive, I want to become better every day,” Ibrahimović told Anderson. “I have a mentality that if I don’t work hard enough, I’m not feeling good.
“And I think that brings you far, it brings you to a level where you challenge your body because it’s all about challenging yourself. How far can you reach? How far can you take your body?
This isn’t the first time during his career that Ibrahimović has been sidelined for a lengthy period due to injury – another serious knee problem when he was playing for Manchester United.
The injury was so bad that it threatened to end his career.
“That was my first major injury so that everything was new for me,” said Ibrahimović as he reflected on the injury he suffered in 2017, which kept him out of action for nearly a year.
“So I didn’t really know what was expecting, what was ahead of me when I was in that situation.
“At first, I was a little bit afraid because I didn’t really know if I could come back or what would happen. But slowly, I took it day-by-day.
“It was more a mental thing where I had to keep calm, keep patient and, let’s say, do a boring training.”
Milan has won the Champions League or European Cup seven times, second only to Spanish giants Real Madrid, though the Rossoneri have not been champion since 2007, in a rare barren spell for the club on the European stage.
Since then, teams such as Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain have benefited from the injection of large sums of cash from oil-rich Gulf nations, while the English Premier League is awash with foreign investment.
“Money brings possibilities,” Ibrahimović told Anderson. ‘Money brings alternatives that not maybe other ones cannot bring and the hype in Premier League is much bigger than Serie A and that’s why the economy is much bigger there.
“But it makes it exciting also because it becomes a challenge for the Italian clubs to beat the other clubs … still we are pro players and the ball is still a round thing and we are doing the same thing.”