Following the embarrassing loss to Atalanta to end the year, I was fully expecting plenty of reports on a new stadium or rich owners interested in purchasing the club to help ease the pain around the holidays. But instead Milan fans received a late Christmas gift on the 26th when Di Marzio and numerous other journalists reported the news of Ibrahimovic agreeing to rejoin the rossoneri.
Assuming the deal becomes official, what does this development say about the parties involved? No matter what your spin is, one thing is universally true- Milan have not been the same club since Ibrahimovic was sold, alongside Thiago Silva, to Paris St Germain in the summer of 2012.
This is when Silvio Berlusconi started waving the white flag by repeatedly stating he could no longer compete financially with those benefitting from oil money in football, so the loss to Atalanta was the miserable ending to a decade that saw Milan’s steady decline.
Following Berlusconi’s “departure”, the disastrous Li/Fassone/Mirabelli regime brought the Financial Fair Play restrictions that Leonardo and now Gazidis/Boban/Maldini/Massara have had to deal with in the past two years. While Leonardo did make some splashy veteran acquisitions (Bonucci and Higuain), the current Milan directors were left with no choice than to lower the wage bill while also acquiring players with potential huge resale value- the vision Gazidis illustrated in a lengthy interview with Gazzetta dello Sport.
But so far, the youth movement has been so frustrating that you can make a case the best players on the squad- Donnarumma, Romagnoli, Bonaventura and Suso- are all from the Galliani era. During the season both Boban and Maldini mentioned the need of having more veterans on the team to help groom the Bennacer, Leao, Hernandez and Duartes on the squad, at times it felt they were publicly egging on Gazidis and the Elliott Fund to ditch the youth movement and bring in some immediate help.
After Bologna and Napoli dropped out of the race, Milan were Zlatan’s only option left in Italy and the rossoneri have reportedly gotten him to agree to only a six month guarantee with an option for next season making this a low risk, very high reward type deal which is easier to stomach for the more conservative branch of the rossoneri’s brass. It remains to be seen if this will be the first of a series of agreements between Milan and Ibrahimovic’s agent Mino Raiola who also represents other significant players on Pioli’s squad.
Giacomo Bonaventura has an expiring contract at the end of the season and could in theory sign with another team during the beginning of the new year. The former Atalanta midfielder has recovered from an injury and has already been linked to Roma, but he has played regularly in the past few weeks at a level superior to others at his position on the squad. Milan will also have to figure out with Raiola the best course of action for Gigio Donnarumma who has just 18 months left on his contract. You have to wonder if Raiola is reportedly agreeing to a short contract for Ibrahimovic as a way to gain good will for these two negotiations… (if that weren’t enough, Raiola has also recently become Suso and Romagnoli’s agent)
While some of his teammates may receive significant benefits from Ibrahimovic’s return, this development is a bold indictment of the Piatek acquisition. Last January the club invested 35 million, paid in a single installment to acquire the Polish striker, but this season he has regressed to the point that there was talk he could be sent back to Genoa on loan to regain his confidence, and more importantly, market value since the idea of another club paying his amortized value remaining is about as likely as Vince Neil being in shape for Motley Crue’s upcoming reunion tour. There is however a significant chance that the development of players like Bennacer, Leao and Hernandez will accelerate because of Ibrahimiovic’s presence.
Milan are hoping Ibrahimovic will have a much more significant impact than previous legends who returned to the club starting with Seedorf, Inzaghi as managers as well as Kaka’ as a player who didn’t move the needle significantly once he came back in 2013. While it remains to be seen how much Zlatan has left after playing his last game in Europe in March of 2018 and at the ripe age of 38, many expect him to bring back some much needed swagger and fire to the locker room- qualities that have been lacking even more since Rino Gattuso left.
Many who have second guessed Ibrahimovic in recent years have been proven wrong, but it’s hard to imagine that he will still be playing by the time Milan returns to the level they were at when he first left. Regardless, while you could say Zlatan’s return reeks of desperation for all parties involved, the reunion leaves all involved in a better situation with little to no risk involved- Kaka’ isn’t any less adored by the fan base despite his underwhelming return and Milan will reportedly just guaranteed six months salary- considering how difficult things have been at Milan recently, that’s a big step forward.