Zlatan Ibrahimovic let down the bravado and confessed he ‘never suffered so much for a trophy’ as Milan’s Scudetto, delayed surgery by six months for the team, but ‘shouldn’t be here’ if it’s just recognition for his past.

The 41-year-old came off the bench to replace Olivier Giroud during this evening’s 2-0 Serie A victory over Atalanta, receiving a standing ovation from the San Siro crowd.

He had not been on the pitch since the Scudetto-winning 3-0 victory away to Sassuolo in May 2022, undergoing knee surgery just days later.

“I missed the fans so much, I thank them for giving me strength, adrenaline and the motivation to continue. Without the support of the fans, it is difficult,” Ibra told DAZN.

“I feel good, if we look back, I haven’t felt this good for a year and two months. I feel able to do what I can do. I felt free today to do what I love, which is to play football.

“I said that I’d make San Siro jump, well today it was jumping.”

Ibrahimovic revealed that DAZN pundit and former Milan teammate Massimo Ambrosini had sent him a WhatsApp message, which he read out on air.

“It says ‘Welcome back my friend, happy for you, you seemed free in your movements. Hugs.’ Thanks, my love.”

He had delayed the surgery to his knee for months and even posted video on social media showing that fluid was sucked out of his knee regularly with a syringe.

“If I have to tell the whole story, I’ll be here for hours. I suffered a lot, so much. The last six months of last season I wanted in every way to help the team, even when I couldn’t really play. I could’ve had the surgery six months earlier, but I could tell this was the season we could win the Scudetto,” continued the Swede.

“I promised to the coach that I would hold off on the surgery because I wanted to be there for the team and help them. I tell you, I never suffered so much as I did last season for a trophy.

“It was also a year when the tragedy of losing Mino (Raiola), so mentally it was a lot of suffering too, not just physically. Thankfully, I have people around me who help give me the strength to keep going. When I’m in good shape, though, I am stronger than anyone. And I’m serious, Ambro.

“I feel like someone who can help more than I did today. I had two or three training sessions and played 15 minutes, imagine what I can do with training sessions. That is what I am missing, the training. It’s been a year and two months since I really got to work with the ball at my feet, but today it felt like no time had passed at all.”

Ibrahimovic made history today as the oldest Milan player ever in a Serie A match, but he assured that he is not there to be a mascot or a heritage figure.

“If I don’t set myself objectives, then I relax and start to feel like I belong in the past. I don’t, I belong in the present and want to challenge my teammates for playing time, otherwise I should not be here.

“I don’t want to be here for what I did one, five or ten years ago. It’s for what I do now. If I don’t bring results or think I only need to play the last 5-10 minutes, I will stay home. It’s already over if someone thinks that. I want to play the whole game.”

After the knee surgery, Ibrahimovic opted to train separately and often in another country, only returning to Milanello when he was ready.

“The first six-seven months of the season I was not present at the training ground. I came to the games, but decided I wanted to have some distance to make a full recovery, as I was suffering too much last season. I realised that if after the surgery I continued the recovery here, I would feel impatient and want to rush my return, so I made that decision with Milan to recover at a distance.

“When I returned, I was present. I just have to look at my colleagues and they know what to do.”

To finish, Ibrahimovic was asked if he could convince Rafael Leao to sign a new contract with Milan.

“I lowered my salary to give more money to him!”

So is it done yet and should Ibra cut even more to boost the offer?

“Hmm! I am practically playing for free, if you want my house, I can give that to you!”

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