Zlatan Ibrahimovic will extend his stay at AC Milan for at least another season should the club pull off an unlikely turnaround to finish in the top four of Serie A and end their six-year Champions League exodus.
The 38-year-old striker rejoined his old side on December 27 in a surprise switch that many regarded as a show of desperation by a club languishing in the bottom half of the table after collecting a meagre 21 points from 17 matches.
Having suffered their worst defeat for 21 years with a 5-0 mauling at Atalanta five days earlier, Milan have lost just once in the eight league matches since the influential Ibrahimovic returned, and even that defeat saw them give title-chasing arch-rivals Inter a real scare before surrendering a 2-0 half-time lead at the San Siro a fortnight ago.
Milan technical director Paolo Maldini, who once compared Ibrahimovic to Milan legend Marco van Basten, told Sky Sport Italia:
‘There’s a six-month contract with an automatic renewal clause in case we reach the Champions League.
‘Otherwise, we’ll put ourselves round the table with him. With Ibra, there must always be an open dialogue and this exists, otherwise he would not have come in the first place.’
Ibrahimovic scored 42 goals in 61 games for Milan between 2010 and 2012 but was not expected to drastically transform the club’s fortunes this season, despite scoring 53 goals for former club LA Galaxy and being named in the MLS teams of the year in 2018 and 2019.
He played for 90 minutes as Milan were held to a 1-1 draw at Fiorentina on Saturday, leaving the Rossoneri nine points behind fourth-placed Atalanta, who have a game in hand.
Milan have not competed in Europe’s most prestigious club competition since they were knocked out at the round of 16 stage by Atletico Madrid in 2014, although Ibrahmovic helped them to reach the quarter-finals in 2012, when they were eliminated by Barcelona.
The Swede, who will be five months shy of 40 at the end of next season and has scored twice in seven Serie A appearances since his return to Italy, netted five times in that Champions League campaign during a formidable season in which he ended with 28 goals in 32 games.
Speaking before Saturday’s stalemate, Milan coach Stefano Pioli, who replaced the sacked Marco Giampaolo in October, said:
‘With Zlatan, I have a relationship built on the utmost respect and admiration.
‘There is mutual trust. It can only do us good to have such an example of great determination and ambition.
‘The reason he’s become a champion is because he’s always had hunger and the desire to improve.’
Milan will look to move closer to the top four when they host relegation-threatened Genoa next Sunday.
Three of their next four matches are against sides in the bottom six, although their ambitions of qualifying for the Champions League will be sternly tested by meetings with Juventus, Roma, Lazio and Napoli during the next month.