‘Milan never had a king, they have a God.’
AS post-match proclamations go, Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s response to AC Milan’s derby win over Inter last Saturday was bold — even by his standards.
The Swede rarely needs an excuse to deliver a memorable, self-aggrandising line. This is the man who once said he’s ‘just a human in the same way a great white shark is just a fish’.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored both goals as AC Milan beat rivals Inter at the San Siro last weekend
The legendary striker declared after the game: 'Milan never had a king, they have a God'
But there was at least substance to his boast this time. The 39-year-old striker scored both goals in a 2-1 win at the San Siro that secured Milan’s first derby victory in Serie A since January 2016, and their first ‘away’ win in the fixture for almost a decade.
It left Stefano Pioli’s side alone at the top of the table for the first time since 2011-12, with four wins from their opening four games.
Although Ibrahimovic has never struggled with self-esteem issues, even he can’t have expected his Rossoneri return to be such a triumph.
Celtic couldn’t have picked a worse moment to face Ibra and his team-mates. Confidence is coursing through Milan once again, and belief is building that one of Europe’s most decorated clubs might finally be emerging from the doldrums after years of mediocrity, mismanagement and underachievement.
Milan go into the Europa League game with Celtic in great form and they sit top of Serie A
Celtic could not have picked a worst time to play the Italian giants after losing to Rangers
Milan haven’t graced the Champions League since their last meeting with Celtic, in the group stage of the 2013-14 campaign, when the Italians won 2-0 at home and 3-0 in Glasgow.
Their last scudetto came in 2010/11, and the club’s last genuine title challenge was the following year, when they finished runners-up.
Ibrahimovic was Milan’s top scorer in both those seasons, and their decline followed his sale to Paris Saint-Germain in the summer of 2012.
It would be rather poetic, then, for the veteran striker to carry the club back to the summit of Italian and European football. Judging by how things have gone so far, that could be where they’re heading.
Zlatan’s brace against Inter took his tally for this season to five goals in three games, with his positive test for Covid-19 and recovery evidently doing little to put him off his stride. ‘Covid had the courage to challenge me — bad idea,’ he remarked.
But the former Manchester United striker’s transformative impact goes back beyond the dawn of the 2020-21 campaign.
He returned to Lombardy in December 2019 on a six-month deal, but few expected to see the same player who left Italy eight years earlier, especially after a year-and-a-half playing in the less demanding environs of Major League Soccer with LA Galaxy.
Zlatan returned to Milan in January and has