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Irish Independent
Irish Independent

At 41, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is ready to reignite his Sweden career against Belgium on Friday

Zlatan Ibrahimovic celebrates scoring for AC Milan against Udinese last Saturday

Retirement didn’t enter the thoughts of Zlatan Ibrahimovic while he was sidelined for eight months with a swollen left knee following surgery.

But his condition certainly had the Swedish soccer great worried.

“I didn’t come into a situation where I said, ‘Stop,’” Ibrahimovic said Tuesday. “I was more (thinking) it was hopeless. Whatever I did, I didn’t get positive feedback. I tried everything.”

Indeed, the AC Milan striker’s main priority quickly became simply getting back to normal health, rather than to a level required to maintain his trophy-laden soccer career.

That Ibrahimovic is back and in a position, at the age of 41, to play for his country in a European Championship qualifier is testament to his self-belief and resilience.

On Saturday, he became the oldest scorer in Serie A history and now he’s hoping to be picked for Sweden's match against Belgium on Friday for his first national team appearance in nearly a year.

“I’m not there (at Milan) or here for charity,” Ibrahimovic said at a news conference at Sweden’s training base. “I’m here to play my game, to provide, and bring results through my performances.

“So hopefully I can continue to do that, and at the same time feel healthy.”

Given Ibrahimovic’s recent period of inactivity — the game against Udinese over the weekend marked his first start since January of last year, having had his knee operation in May — he is not prepared to discuss how long he has left in his playing career.

He certainly isn’t thinking about Euro 2024 in Germany.

“I take it day by day,” Ibrahimovic said. “If I feel good and I’m selected by the coach, I will help him, the team and the country to do my best.

“I think at my age, you do not think future. You think present. Even if I am the past, present and the future.”

Sweden also plays Azerbaijan in qualifying during the international break and Ibrahimovic, the country’s all-time leading scorer and possibly its greatest ever player, is unlikely to start for the team. He sees himself nowadays more as a mentor to the younger players in the squad.

“I said yesterday, ‘I’m sure you’re wondering what I’m doing here. I’m sure you think I’m stupid,’” Ibrahimovic said about his arrival in the Sweden camp.

“But I said wait until you get close to the end, then you will understand all the things I do. There’s some kind of panic that you want it to continue.”

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